In-laws Mark and Fran discovered something crucial to national security when they took a walk the other evening.
Bluish lights flickered from various windows of every house. But not a soul sat on a porch or traipsed through a front lawn anywhere.
''Now we know the perfect time to take over the country,'' Fran said. ''Invade between the hours of 8 and 10 p.m. - prime time. No one will see you coming.''
Back before our waist sizes plumped up faster than the latest obesity reports, we used to spend a fair amount of time outdoors. Then air conditioning and cable was introduced to the massing masses.
Let Horatio Caine swelter in Miami. Let the ''Survivor'' nuts wander the mountains of Fiji. Let Ty Pennington swing a hammer through all 50 states. Why go out there with all the bugs and humidity when you can WATCH the outdoors on TV?
A University of Illinois at Chicago study published by the National Academy of Sciences last year says Americans spend 25 percent less time in nature than we did in 1987, and the shunning continues at about 1 percent a year. The study tracked hiking and camping, hunting and fishing, and visits to national parks.
Guys who used to go ''fishing'' by dropping a line in the water and promptly falling asleep against the trunk of a tree now cast their remotes at fishing shows and promptly fall asleep against the bed pillows.
I cannot throw stones from inside my glass house. I love playing golf. I've never actually played the game outdoors on those big, sprawling fields with the manicured greens. I sit at my computer, clicking a mouse.
A gentle breeze blows the flags on the screen. Birds chirp over the speakers. Arnie Palmer himself is the other half of my twosome. And I don't have to wear funny pants. Or any pants, for that matter.
If a renegade group tries to overtake the town, it's likely we wouldn't notice until after prime time. Maybe later.
Would-be adventurers busy playing the video game ''Soldier of Fortune'' would miss the war entirely.
They'd only find out when someone happened to glance outside, spot an oddity, and tap in a tweet to all their invisible followers on Twitter.
We used to sit on front porches and chat with the constant stream of neighbors passing by. Now we can't communicate unless it's by machine.
What does it mean when you are on a date and she keeps getting interrupted by the cell phone? Should you text your buddies and ask? Maybe you can post a message on her MySpace page.
Facebook subscribers collect hundreds of "friends." Some, they may know personally. Most, they've never met. Never will.
They're sorta like pretend friends, like my invisible pals Goo-Goo, Gee-Gee and Ga-Ga. I outgrew them when I was 4. But when I was 3, we spent hours together outside on the backyard swing set. I saw the world around me then.
Now I'm holed up indoors even longer watching DVD collections of ''McHale's Navy,'' ''Get Smart,'' ''I Spy'' and other shows from prime times past.
It's a good thing Mark and Fran are on the lookout. I hope they don't discover prime time.
---- Cole doesn't tweet. Write him between rounds of golf at firstname.lastname@example.org