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So this happens a lot: our young charge Bella is expecting friends to visit so they can all hang out and play together, perhaps even have a sleepover. She's excited about it because she loves her friends, and she's excited at the prospect of finally not having to sit in mute horror of having a conversation with we grownups, because our conversations tend to be full of “lessons” and telling her things “for her own good”, and “Please bathe!” and “Please stop bathing, you've been in there for an HOUR!” The friends' parents are due to drop them off any minute now, oh boy oh joy.

The moment arrives! The friends troop in, bags are flung into corners, cats are greeted/terrorized, snacks are dispensed in exchange for mumbled perfunctory thanks all 'round, and then silence descends...

...as they all sit and begin staring at their mobile devices. Slack expressions. Blink. Tap. Bee-boop. The occasional girly snort-guffaw and “I know, right?”

I know this is probably a generation-gap thing (chasm, crevasse, whatever), but this drives me all kinds of mad. I suggest a game of catch with the velcro paddles – a gambit that every once in awhile and with certain of her friends has yielded positive results – and Bella shoots me a smoldering glare that threatens to peel skin from my forehead. No dice anyway, no one is interested. Bleep. Tap-tap. Vvvwing! Snort.

I despair of the future of our youths' health and attention span, I really do. You know who I blame? Adults. No, not me. Maybe not you either. Those other adults. The ones who can't live disconnected. Or perhaps I have that wrong. I mean those who aren't connected to the things that matter.

How often have you seen people out walking, or jogging, or bicycling, out in the fresh air, breathing in the scents of Nature and surrounded by the glorious green of the vital living Earth, and missing it all because they're totally engrossed in a conversation on their phone? It's bad enough that you have to step around some clod at the supermarket who's in teleconference with his spouse because he can't manage to navigate the aisles on his own...

(“I don't see beets here...Root-looking things?...I thought rutabagas were roots, that's why they call them ROOTabagas...Beets are roots?...Well excuse me, how was I supposed to know that?”)

...or that you have to be ever-vigilant against some multi-tasking mook running you off the road or knocking you down in a crosswalk, but to witness such disregard for both the natural world and other people around them trying to enjoy it for themselves is maddening. Why do they bother to be outside if they're just going to willfully blind themselves to what's going on all around them?

On my last visit to Oaks Bottom, on the narrow trail that runs below the mausoleum, I was passed twice (once in each direction) by a man running and chattering with a BlueTooth device stuck to his ear. I could tell by his end of the conversation that it wasn't a social call, as it contained terms like “market share” and “team wellness” and “margin coddling”. One of those people who can't relax and can't afford to unplug. Jeebus, there seem to be so many of them. They're the butt of jokes and viral videos (remember the lady who walked into the fountain at the mall?), these people for whom two free hands and two free ears and two free thumbs equal mortal separation. Bah!

Even if I get a smartphone one of these days, I'll do the smart thing and keep it in my pocket. When I'm outside, whether on a sidewalk or on a forest trail, I'll let the world talk to me and I'll just listen.

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Comment by Rob Creighton Garrison on August 5, 2013 at 6:51pm

I agree, Vesta.  Thanks for the comment!

Comment by Vesta Van Patten-Dunn on August 5, 2013 at 4:55pm

I have a smart phone and thankfully am smart enough to put it away. I hate it when you see a family out in a restaurant, none of them talking, all on their individual phones. Sad.

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