Humane Technology: Fred Rogers

Archive Date: January 20, 2018
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When I was a child I so much enjoyed watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I found this show to be unique in its approach to different topics that my parents or other adults would shy away from at the time. Mr. Rogers provided a model for courage, bravery, and an approach to tough topics that gave me a great sense of joy, inclusion, and understanding. I also received an example of connection and comfort that arose from the content of this show. I do also know I am about to connect yet another white male figure to the cannon of intermedia studies, however, this is relevant to the Hero Project I am working on with the Champion Intergenerational Center.

According to Hedda Sharapan, one of the main consultants for the Fred Rogers Communications philosophy recalls,

“Fred felt strongly that “screens” should not be used as a substitute for human communication. He originally named our production company Family Communications, because his goal was to create experiences that parents and children would watch together and talk about. He firmly believed the best technology connects children with others and the world around them in positive ways.”

In an age where Mr. Roger’s philosophy seems to fade away, I recall this episode from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood examining technology, connection, and learning, please click here. There is currently no getting away from the fact that the digital space is impeding on the analog spaces, and any source for course correction has long past. Mr. Rogers said, “Let’s not get so fascinated by what the technology can do that we forget what it can’t do.” I think the fascination has overtaken our lives and we are slowly forgetting its limitations. This situation is the one I am consumed with at the moment. How can we not forget about love, empathy, joy, relevance, and human connection and interaction? It can be hard to recognize the work that is being done in the realms of technology, film, and TV that address these concerns.

While I connect with my own experience watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood I am also looking at my own children’s consumption and reliance on the screen. I am constantly struggling with the relationship my children have with screens. Noting that this applies to my own struggle I have with disconnecting. I feel like I am constantly trying to find time to enjoy communication and interact by installing no screens at dinnertime, timed interactions, reading a book time, and blackout weekends. However, with all these new provisions to safeguard a child’s learning, I still find a struggle as society becomes more and more embedded through the screen. Here are some recent stats on daily intake. Also see here. 

Is this how it is going to be? Is the humane approach now to find ways to disconnect from the screen and reconnect with the body, environment, and people around us? Or is the humane way to provide content that enhances the connections in the digital space? Maybe it is both at this point.

Considering how TV and screen time can be humane, I glance over at the film industry statistics, which currently claims globally 41.2 billion dollars in 2017. My Humane technology project under Norah Zuniga Shaw’s research is in film and animation, so the impact of the rising power of film interests me. Check out some of the film industries projected numbers here. These numbers raise concern that our relationship towards film is constantly growing in popularity, and the rise of Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks films’ continue to be powerhouses in children’s content. Does the content of the films allow us a moment to escape our lives by providing us with 2-3 hours of visual entertainment? Or the chance to engage in other worlds, human interactions, different experiences, and problem solve? Is this considered humane?

I guess it all comes down to the content provided. I recently reflect on watching the Pixar movie COCO, I consider this experience of witnessing my own culture and family dynamics represented with care, so powerfully on a screen – to be humane. To see for once on the big screen in animation a clear representation of what it means to be Latina/o had a profound impact on me – one I will not forget. Yes, this movie also spoke to my inner child and my obsession surrounding death culture. More on that later.

While these thoughts are just some of the sensibilities I am forming around my project -there is much more to consider. The Champion Intergenerational Center I will be working with provides the opportunity for older and younger people to interact around well-being together.  Some of my growing questions at the moment include: What content needs to be seen? What are the representations I can provide with care? How is my approach considering love and empathy through film?

In 1969 Mr. Rogers made claim and was awarded 20 million to provide a platform of care to children with a television show via the public access network. This show was revolutionary for its time and has been an inspiration for showing the way to deliver content with care. Watch Mr. Rogers give his testimony…

The video above continues to move and inspire me. Not only with Mr. Roger’s ability to provide a sound argument but with the care and approach to his material. Mr. Rogers was able to transform public television and strategically provide an alternative for growing young minds. I think there is much to learn from Mr. Roger’s in the delivery of care and well-being.

Mr. Rogers, you were a pioneer and innovator in the humane technology field.