My special Valentine this year is a beautiful 10-year-old girl named Madeline. She is a typical American kid, confronted by a world vastly different from the one in which her parents grew up.
Instead of inventing games and projects with other children, Madeline has an array of high-tech gizmos to keep her occupied. While my transistor radio kept me up to date on the Beatles, Madeline's small music machine holds thousands of tunes that are piped into her ear on demand. And she doesn't even have to go to a record store! She can "download" any song she wants from a computer.
On the playtime front, Madeline has a DS and a Wii. Instantly, games appear on small and big screens. She doesn't have to go bowling she can simulate bowling using the Wii on her giant TV set. She can play tennis that way, too. In fact, Madeline never even has to go outside to play sports. They are virtually all in her living room.
''Can Eddie come out and play?" That was my question after I knocked on my friend's door back in Levittown, Long Island. But Madeline has never said those words. She calls her friends on a cell phone, and playtime is arranged in advance by nervous parents who wouldn't dare allow their young children to roam the neighborhood unattended. Madeline has fun on her "play dates," but spontaneity is missing, as are gangs of kids. "Play dates" are usually limited to one or two urchins.
Despite all the technology and protection, Madeline has somehow developed an interest in time-honored hobbies like horses, pop idols and volleyball. She also has developed a deep sensitivity toward other people. Like many children, Madeline has seen her peers brutalized by cyber-bullying and finds it cruel and unacceptable. She even wrote a school paper about it.
But the tech revolution has also made it easier for Madeline to escape from reality. The machines allow her to avoid thinking about problems and solutions. With a flick of a finger, Madeline can enter a fantasy world where she doesn't have to think about bad things or work out complicated situations. She can play emotional hide-and-not-seek all day long.
It is not easy for an adult to talk with Madeline. She prefers to be otherwise occupied, which is normal at that age. Her favorite phrases are "I don't know" and "I don't care." Perhaps for Valentine's Day, I'll get her a shirt with those words printed on the front and back.
Most likely, though, I'll get Madeline a card that says I love her more than anything or some such Valentine's endearment. She is America's future, and I know she will make this country better. Machines or no machines.
Veteran TV news anchor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show The O'Reilly Factor.''