Walking on the treadmill at the gym provides me with headspace, thinking time, reflection periods. Today as I trudged along, working off my Silly Season excesses, I caught a glimpse of the woman to my right, briskly walking, but deeply involved with texting on her smartphone as she walked. I thought: Lady, you’d better not mis-step – you’ll be in dead trouble! Her face showed she was probably in her mid-30s, so no surprises there, I’m accustomed to seeing younger people wandering around, zombie-like, entranced by their mobile screens as they shop, walk, cross roads, you name it, that little screen has them hypnotised. But on the treadmill? This is a new one.
I have long thought this laser focus was confined to the 35s and under. But imagine my surprise when my gaze shifted to the treadmill on my left, and there was a senior citizen, and he had the grey hair and wrinkles to prove it, tapping away like mad on his cell-phone as he trotted on his treadmill. Yikes! Clearly the disease is spreading.
One of my teenaged grand-children once loftily informed me that young people had to be connected all the time ; this in response to my comment on their passion for texting. She did not elaborate on her statement being convinced that I couldn’t possibly understand, because I’m so old and therefore, completely out of touch with modernity. Exercising every atom of self-control, I refrained from slapping her and chewing her head off. This is where the generation gap shows its ugly face.
And don’t get me started about couples in coffee shops and restaurants. One wonders why they bother to accompany their partner, because there’s no personal conversation, laughter, general chit-chat, eye contact. Uh-huh. Those heads are bent, eyes riveted to the tiny screens and their fingers flying over the keys. Zero interaction between the table-mates. You’ve got to ask yourself: wouldn’t it be cheaper to simply stay at home, text as long as you like, from the comfort of your own sofa, and make a mug of Nescafe? It would certainly be cheaper!
As an aside, I blame the arrival of Twitter, a few years back. Now people seem to feel obliged to report on their every action, trivial or otherwise. You will not be surprised to learn that I refuse to Tweet. Texting: yes, no problem. It’s very useful. And P.S. I’ve even heard of Whatsapp. But Twittering? I’m cosily hunkered down into my crusty old generation gap, thanks very much, and I’m sure you don’t want to know I’ve fed the cat, brushed my teeth, and eaten two dried apricots. Yawn.
I find it curious that so many friends have sent in post-Christmas reports gushing about their holiday breaks spent in remote Karoo dorpies, or in beach shacks, sans electricity, sans cell-phones, having a wonderful refreshing and relaxing break. Note: un-connected for days – if not a whole week or longer. Gasp!
Isn’t there a disconnect here ? It seems that a city mind-set has to be constantly connected. You have to be reachable, day or night, at all and any time, whether the seeker is your boss, a friend, a kid, a phone survey troll – the permutations are infinite. And yet, once out in the country, the connection virus weakens and some people even – I’m assured this is true – switch off their cell-phones. For hours, if not days, at a time. Totally radical, huh?
I’ve had further thoughts on the topic. By being so electronically connected, 24/7, people are disconnected from the world around them, from people and events – life itself. Isn’t this ironic? They’re not connected at all. They ‘re oblivious of the natural world, the nuances of sunshine on foliage, the sudden flit of a bird out of a nearby bush, a swirl of colour in a woman’s scarf, smiles on little kids’ faces, the touch of a friendly hand on a shoulder, the list goes on and on. Life, with its myriad textures, sounds, colours, sights, is shut out in the tunnel vision of electronica.
Yes, they might be viewing a friend’s pictures on Facebook, a birthday party, a Youtube clip – sure, but this is not the real thing. This is not here and now. This is experiencing life at a remove, life via the printed word, symbols and mini-graphics on a small screen. Here and Now is reality. What reflects off the oblong screen is an image of reality, a shadowy doppelganger.
Do we really want to live via the printed word? Do we realise we’re living a dream life in our heads when the entire glorious, marvellous, terrifying wonderful world is right in front of us?