Well, you can tell my age, she chuckled, somewhat sadly, and I knew where she was going with it,
I’m the only one not looking at my phone! Soon we won’t have conversations anymore.
She was positioned between me and seven other patients. We were cramped amidst rather ugly waiting room surroundings and possibly anticipating uncomfortable procedures or harrowing diagnosis. And, yes— all but the little old lady— all of us were on our phones.
Of course, once she said what she said, we all blushed a little. The couple across from me started talking to each other and lowering their phones slowly to their laps, failing at subtlety. The rest of us gave polite laughs and turned this or that way, trying to be discreet but knowing we weren’t. Were we all to turn off our phones at her comment? To do so would certainly seem patronizing. To not do so — well, isn’t she just going to lose more of her faith in humanity and in this generation? I considered engaging her in conversation but I was kind of scared to. It felt so forced at that point. Luckily the nurse called my name soon after.
But I thought about what I would have told her. First, I would have told her that I completely appreciate her insight into a time before mass connectivity and distraction. I would tell her that I’m thankful there are people who both remember that time and still actively live in it. I would tell her that though I may just look like some hip millenial with my big screen below my eyes, I, too, mourn something. I spent most of my childhood obsessed with Little House on the Prairie. Being nine years old and a bit naive, I was actually sad when the highly dreaded Y2K didn’t happen. I longed for a mass forced return to covered wagons and old fashioned values and virtues. And a huge part of my heart still does.
I would want to show the little old lady exactly what it was I was doing on my phone. See, I would say, I’m actually writing an essay. Could you have imagined that? I’m not what you think I am. Sure, I get on Facebook. But you actually caught me when I was doing something productive, inspirational, nourishing. And what if I had been scribbling that essay on a notepad? What would you think of me then? I wanted to defend myself to the little old lady. But then I thought of what she could easily respond. Yes, sure, your essay is worthwhile. But then write it on that notepad. Because the way that you hide behind that screen is a problem in and of itself. The lack of transparency is not worth whatever it is you’re doing. At least grace us with some honesty, some presence. The phone allows you to escape into another world of isolation, no matter what it is you’re doing on it.
And I would say, you’re right. But it’s so much easier to type. I might not write the essay if I had to handwrite it. But she would smile, in her knowing way, without having to say what I know she would want to say: maybe life was better when things were a little more difficult.
And my mind would turn, okay, yes, but to what end? How difficult? Middle ages difficult? Black plague? Where do you stop? Where do you draw the line? She would laugh and then the nurse would call me. That’s how things could have gone, I suppose.
But she would have gone home the same way as she already did— confident in the demise of this generation and of our culture. And I would have gone to sit and wait on the doctor, also fairly confident in the demise of this generation and of our culture.
But is that right?
Little old lady, there is no question that there are some very flippant young people who utilize technology without any sort of self-examination. There is no question that the smart phone comes with loads and loads of problems. But more of us realize this than you might think. I may be a little extreme in my affinity for old-fashioned eras but I’m not the only person in this generation questioning our use of technology. Many people are deleting apps and installing apps that limit the very usage of such apps. They’re making clear rules for themselves and for each other to avoid misuse and addiction. They’re looking for ways to connect with each other and the earth, locally and organically. Many of us wish it were as simple as throwing the phone out the window. Many of us wish it were as simple as rewinding back to another time. You can do that, to some extent. You can escape it. But for most of us it isn’t that simple. Because this is our time. You had battles of your own time. Well, this is our battle— our battle to retain the dignity of the human soul and its relationships. But I assure you, take heart— there are plenty of us ready and willing to fight that battle even if we’re still trying to figure out how.