Today’s inert children are merely adapting to our sedentary lifestyles. Time to replace the 100 metres with a biryani dash…
The age of the weeds is finally dawning. I always knew we’d win. As I stood on the cold playing field, last to be picked for the team, I’d inwardly shake my head at the stronger, sportier boys and mutter: “Dinosaurs.” When they passed me on the athletics track, leaving me wheezing in their wake, I’d cough the word “Dinosaurs” at their retreating plimsolls. As I clattered into the high jump bar for the umpteenth time, “Dinosaurs” I’d spit at my mocking contemporaries. And when I finally got home in front of the TV, “Dinosaurs!” I’d exclaim at an episode of The Flintstones.
Research published last week has vindicated me. My sedentary, square-eyed childhood was positively futuristic. When I resisted my parents’ and teachers’ efforts to make me acquire puff, I knew which way the wind was blowing – and that if it was blowing at all, I’d better stay indoors playing on my computer. Nowadays, staying indoors, playing on computers is what most of us do as a job. You certainly don’t meet many people at parties who earn their living playing rounders or climbing trees.
This research has been spearheaded (please excuse the atavistic language; I should say “joysticked”) by Dr Grant Tomkinson, who talks about the trends it reveals like they’re a bad thing. But then he is from the University of South Australia, and I reckon Australia will be where the active, outdoorsy T rexes, who can take a lungful of air without spluttering, will make their final stand – before surrendering to the weeds’ wobbling army of mobility-scootered multi-screeners, on the condition that we show them how to reboot their Wi-Fi.
“Imagine you are racing over four laps of an Olympic track,” says Tomkinson, unappetisingly. “If you took the average child from 1975, transported them to today, put them against the current average child, they would beat them by almost a lap.” That’s in the unlikely event that the child of today would put his crisps down and agree to the contest. Tomkinson’s analysis of 50 other fitness studies, involving more then 25 million children, concluded that cardiovascular fitness has fallen by 15% in a generation. I like to think I did my bit.
“If a young person is generally unfit now, then they are more likely to develop conditions like heart disease later in life,” warns Tomkinson. You can tell he’s a sport scientist and not an evolutionary biologist from the meaning he attaches to the word “unfit”. The larger, weaker kids of today could hardly be more fit, more apt, for their crowded, carby, mechanised context. Their cardiovascular capabilities are diminishing appropriately under environmental pressures, like the vestigial wings of a flightless bird.
And our giant human brains allow us to specialise more quickly than by evolution alone. Most of us may be fatter, slower, wheezier and better at Googling than ever before, but an elite minority of sportspeople are faster and stronger than our most sun-kissed, stone-skimming, rock-climbing, fresh-air-advocating ancestors. So it’s all good.
But as, over the centuries, full motor function becomes the preserve of a minority of specialist athletes and sex workers, how will all that running around and kicking of projectiles be replaced in the curriculum? We can’t go on with school sport as it currently is – the kids of tomorrow won’t want to look up from their tablets (in either sense) that long. What should the sports day equivalents of tomorrow consist of? Here are some ideas to ensure the metaphorical roundedness of our literally near-spherical descendants.
The term “takeaway”, the ready-to-eat food which is delivered to your house by an unqualified motorcyclist, is familiar to all of us. But few know the obscure etymology of the phrase. Originally, “takeaways” were meals you had to physically go and get, and then “take away” yourself. On Takeaway Day, the whole school is bussed around to the mysterious places the takeaways come from, to see and learn about the out-of-town biryani vats and chow mein tanks, and the warehouse-sized wood ovens that allow almost as great a surface area of American Hot to be cooked every day as rainforest is cut down to fuel them.
Phone Tariff Day
Childhood should be the stage of our lives when we have time for the things that the frantic realities of being an adult deny us: long summer afternoons fishing in a stream, rainy autumn Saturdays curled up with an adventure novel, or, towards the end of the school year, the chance to properly shop around for the right phone tariff. Not only will this save pupils money, the memory of the unbearable boredom of this day will mean that they won’t resent being perpetually fleeced by their mobile phone providers for the rest of their lives – they’ll consider it cheap at the price to avoid going through the day again.
Privacy was once a common aspiration, before, in 2013, Google futurist Vinton Cerf dismissed it as “an anomaly” and that was that. Under the combined attack of the search engine and the social network, everything about us was laid bare and soul searching became something you could do through your web browser. But for one day of the year, pupils will be encouraged to stop sharing every aspect of their activities, hopes, dreams, fears and crushes, and keep things private for a few hours. Obviously, the urge to type will be irresistible, but they’ll be given non-Wi-Fi-enabled laptops so that secrecy can be preserved for a few hours. The scheme can pay for itself by then selling this data to marketing firms.
Ingratiating Yourself With Robots Day
We can’t do all this super-fast evolving on our own: we’ll need ever more ingenious machinery, which will lead inexorably to the rise of a robot master race. I don’t need to join the dots for you – it’s obvious from TV. So, a key skill our young will have to learn is how to get on with our robot masters and, if possible, conjoin with them. An inappropriate subject for a school day, you might think? Well, when the place is crawling with bitter, belligerent and laser-guided Henry hoovers, that’ll be the least of our worries.
The greatest intellectual specimens of humankind will be chosen to form cyborgs: stripped of their flabby and vestigial outer bodies and installed in a Big Trak or hostess trolley – like the green scrambled egg inside a Dalek that provides the vindictive spirit with which it aims its plunger. But that can only happen after centuries of getting used to no longer being able to climb stairs.