Have you ever noticed how you can justify something you "want" into being something you "need"? David and I spent the first six years of our marriage tolerating dial-up internet for the sheer frugality of it, holding out through hundreds of tedious downloads and annoying 20-megabyte photos from people who didn't know how to re-size them for email. When we finally joined the 21st century soon after we moved into our townhome it was like the internet floodgates had burst open, and suddenly I was hearing strains of the Hallelujah Chorus as I checked my email (because I could download it in 5 seconds, of course). Now that we've had a taste of high-speed, there is no going back. I need my fast internet. I mean it. You can pry my wireless router out of my cold, dead hands.
But, if it came down to a choice between feeding my family or checking my email, feeding my family would win (if only by a slight margin, and only because I adore food). Also banished in exchange for survival would be the cell phones, the cable TV and many other little conveniences I love, but could live without.
I've never met a person who hasn't justified some sort of want as a need, but there are different levels of justification. Some people might simply "need" a candy bar (blood sugar issues, you know). But I have heard others label everything from cable TV to a garage to gym memberships as "needs" even as there is no food on the table and no way to pay the electricity bill.
So, in a way, it doesn't surprise me that some people in Texas had trouble differentiating between needs and frivolities, even in desperate times: After Hurricane Ike, hospitals in storm-hit areas were seeing a pattern of children needing treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning. You see, the storm surged, the power went off, and suddenly parents were tearing their hair out trying to entertain their normally zombified little ones. So, they ran generators indoors to power video game consoles and poisoned their children in the process.
University of Texas associate professor of medicine, Catherine Fife, stated: “Our bias has been that people use generators because they need to keep cool or run equipment to maintain necessary household functions, like food storage. Yet, we were seeing people in the first 36 hours of the storm and the thing that they were struggling with is keeping the children entertained.”
Now, I will be the first to admit that I have plopped Michael in front of a television screen to allow myself a few unhassled moments at the computer or a couple extra minutes of sleep. And I usually allow Michael to play a few games on Wii Fit before I turn it off for the day (but I won't talk about how he has the reigning high score on a few activities... too embarrassing). Sometimes I also let him hold a controller and we will play "Monkey" (Super Mario Brothers) together. But while these little technological babysitters are rather convenient at times, I'm pretty sure I could do without them, whether now or in times of disaster.
It's too bad that more people can't say the same. Because, in addition to needing a lesson on the definition of necessity, these Nintendo-playing doofuses need a dose of common sense. Using a generator to power video games instead of using it for cooking, light, or maintaining refrigeration? You know, surviving? Hello? Get these people a board game and some candles if they are that bored. Or books. Or the instructions to hide-and-seek. And then smack them over the head with a spare two-by-four. If they are running out of things for their kids to do, perhaps they could try helping with the storm clean-up, which would get their little darlings off their behinds and out serving the community, a family bonding experience if there ever was one.
When our perception of reality is so skewed that video games become the greatest necessity in times of disaster, carbon monoxide poisoning is the least of our problems.