I’m no better than anyone else.
I walk through the streets, headphones on, same as all the rest. We may as well have fish bowls on our heads like astronauts outside their spacecraft. The only thing that makes me better, if only by the breadth of a hair, is that I’m not texting while walking. I’d like to say it’s some sense of decorum that prevents me, but it’s probably just a fear of walking into something or someone. I confess to succumbing to frustration at times and not deviating course from someone clearly incapable of staying on one.
“Uncouth buggers,” I think, dipping a shoulder gently but with purpose.
“Sorry!” they say cheerily, eyes never really looking up.
I don’t even like to take calls on my mobile in public places let alone text. I end up talking very low and feeling like some shut-in, heavy-breathing phone-sex addict. My equivalent of “what are you wearing” is “how long will that take and how much will it cost?”
I ducked into a bar at the airport not long ago. I sat down, ordered a drink, and while the barman was making it I pulled out my phone and checked to see if my flight was on-time. This kind of app is one of the few redeeming characteristics of modern mobile technology, I find.
After tapping a few things and learning I was on-schedule, I caught a glimpse of an older gent sitting next to me with one stool in between.
He was subtly shaking his head disapprovingly.
I knew what for, but I wasn’t! I swear! I was just checking my flight, not Snapchatting or checking in or some such thing.
“It used to be that when you went to a bar you went to actually strike up a conversation over a drink.”
Nothing more needed to be said. This was an argument I couldn’t win. I put my phone in my pocket with great ceremony— like lowering a casket slowly and sacredly into the ground for internment.
We spoke for the better part of half an hour. He was an eccentric– possibly lascivious, definitely alcoholic, and obviously well-to-do. He had flown up to Boston from the Vineyard so he could have supper at this club, spend the night in one of its rooms, and then fly home tomorrow. I gathered he did this weekly and whenever the mood struck him.
This is my moral beacon.
Just last week I was in the barber shop. It’s a typical four or five chair place. The youngish, perhaps early thirties, guy next to me is texting the entire time. His arms were well outstretched, low toward his knees so no hair would sully his phone. The barber occasionally tried to make conversation with him. Most times the customer never even looked up. “Yeah. Yeah.”
“Shall I shave off your eyebrows?”
That didn’t happen. I wished it would have.
As I’m watching this unfold, his barber and I catch eyes and exchange little rolls.
It was at this time that I became aware that my barber had said something to me that I completely missed– so engrossed in the terrible texter beside me.
Pulled into his insidious vortex of hell.com.
And now Google piles on with the cruelest cut of all.
I need a self-driving car like a fish needs a self-driving bicycle.
Driving is one of the rarest of occasions when one can be, should be present.
Google wants to take this present back.
No more hearing the engine wind as the gears climb toward changing before falling into a lower rumble. No more eyes canvasing the terrain (whether to behold it for all its beauty or to guard against Big Wheels or small dogs). No more stereo cranked up. No more singing full throat in your own little leather appointed sound room. No more sun in the face or wind in the hair.
Great. Soon we’ll be hurdling “forward” in the Jetsonsmobile at the speed of (yellow) light.
I’m no Zen Buddhist. I’d rather eat bees than listen to Eckhart Tolle drone on. But there is more than a little truth to the idea of interconnectedness. And the more we let having “friends” on Facebook supplant getting together with our friends, the worse we’ll be. The more we Snapchat and less we chit-chat over coffee, the more isolated we’ll continue to become.
Alas, that genie is out of the bottle and into the mobile phone I fear, and we will continue to move amongst other people but never actually with them. We’ll know the joy of arriving with no idea how we got there. No more here. Just turn-by-turn there.