The Stanford Marshmallow experiment, if you’re not familiar with it, goes like this: you tell a kid that they can have a marshmallow now, or, if they wait, they get two marshmallows later. It seems pretty simple, right? Well, it turns out that you’re in a heap of trouble if you screw it up. Kids who waited 15 minutes for another marshmallow turned out to get better jobs, have more friends, do better scholastically – essentially have a better life; we “live in the moment” marshmallow-eaters have paltry and unsuccessful lives by comparison.
Saturday morning cartoons were my jet-puffed marshmallows. Not literally, we never had Count Chockulas or Lucky Charms in our kitchen, but I spent my entire week waiting for the Saturday morning lineup: Dungeons & Dragons, Pee Wees big adventure, the Monchichis, Berenstein Bears, etc. Before I became aware of Saturday morning cartoons there was Batman & Robin. Legend has it that I could be found as early as 4am staring at the snow of a fairly-well-tuned black & white television, waiting for Batman to inaugurate the station’s day of programming.
Those of us who nurtured our marshmallow sensibilities in the 80s are enjoying a level of success in life that may never be replicated. Remember those dotcom booms? That was the coming of age moment for Saturday morning cartoon acolytes – our rigorous training in delayed gratification paying off in spades as we joined the workforce. But now we’re faced with a serious problem, a problem which not only threatens our children but threatens mediocrity for an entire generation: streaming video.
My daughter lives, in part, to share those joys that DJ Lance Rock shares with all the Gabba friends in Gabba land. Brobie, Foofah, and Toodie – all of the characters in Yo Gabba Gabba – have become family (we love you Gooble!) And in those spare moments between blocks and Playmobil, while her parents are distracted by lunch-making, she can locate the ipad, unlock it, and navigate to the Kids’ section of Netflix before we can spread the jelly. She is not experiencing delayed gratification, not at all. Sometimes we’re able to intercept the device, “no ipad until the weekend,” but that lasts until the next moment in which our backs are turned.
I have no doubt that her generation will someday write clever blog posts about how streaming video enabled their stories to become some social-network fabric. Interwoven throughout her day, Moono will become a big pimply brother, his adventures revisited repeatedly and non-linearly while her parents spread the peanut butter. Her Gabba friends will be understood through a shifting kaleidoscope of external circumstances and childhood emotions, and never with the benefit of the full context of an episode. Perhaps it will be more of a social-network felted scarf.
If the marshmallow experiment continues to hold, they’re in trouble: Saturday mornings are gone, nostalgia is gone, and delayed gratification, at best, will be something your parents impose on you.
Is there an app for that?