April 26, 1991|By KATHLEEN F. SHEMER

My 10-year-old daughter is spearheading the 21st century's

version of survival of the fittest. I am not talking about the gradual development of keener ears or sharper eyes that are shaped over thousands of years. The process of selection she is engaging in is occurring so rapidly Darwin might discount it, but I am convinced of its validity.

I call it survival of the emotional life of the species. My daughter, First Generation of the Age of Nintendo, is happier indoors than out. She is preparing for life in toxicity.

Toxicity is a world where a few stiff doses of the sun will give us cancer. We will adapt by wearing hats and by smothering our skins with chemicals to ward off the damaging rays. Unfortunately, we still must breathe. Adapting out of breathing will take at least several centuries. I guess we could grow bigger muscles to carry sterilized air packs on our backs as we rush from climate-controlled house to car to job.

But we will not be able to enjoy a brisk walk across an ice-covered field, drawing crisp air deep into our lungs, with a hint of wood smoke tantalizing in the air. Or watch the dust fly as a Little Leaguer slides into home on a gleaming Saturday morning. Or lie under the brightest stars and smell the tangy odor of hay.

Forget snorkeling in the bluest Caribbean. The sea will be dull and green, the electric fish destroyed by toxins, and the coral kicked to death by flailing man-made fins. That close to the Equator the sun would kill us anyway.

Who will be able to survive such emotional deprivation? The spirits of poets will wither and die. Composers, even TV sitcom writers, will lose their inspiration. Farmers, unable to run their hands through the radioactive dirt, will no longer feel their drive to create. Life as we value it will cease to exist.

Sometimes, I get angry on a perfect spring day when my daughter will not go outside. I want her to be racing through the woods, chest heaving, hair flying in the wind. But she does not feel the pull that draws hundreds of office workers into a small concrete courtyard to eat their lunches. She may go at my coaxing, but her skin will not tingle with the breath of spring.

How can I watch her live half a life? On the other hand, perhaps her indoor focus ultimately will be a healthy one. She may be in the process of becoming ''nature-free,'' so when her daughter's daughter is born, the process of environmental selection will be complete. My great-granddaughter's soul, freed of external stimulants, will be able to soar without the accouterments of nature we so desperately need to live fully today.

1% The writer is a Baltimore lawyer.

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