(Originally written September 2010)
“Nice to meet you. Facebook me so we can never interact in person sometime.”
When was the last time you called an acquaintance without feeling like an absolute creep? My guess is about 2002.
Changing technology with all its’ doodads, bells, and whistles seemed like a great idea. “Yes, please! I’d like to have every shred of my life in my pocket at all times.” Well, I have a litany of issues with what the Apple folks have done to the relevance of social interaction, but why nitpick over matters that define the human race, let’s just jump to the meat of this story. And that meat is a chicken sandwich with caramelized onions, no pickle.
The burger joint in my neighborhood has exactly two things on the menu I like to order and neither are burgers. Nevertheless, I return again and again to enjoy the non-burger items and occasionally end up chatting with strangers; my favorite pastime. A middle aged man at the table next to me, seated alone, fiddled and fingered his iPad from the moment he sat down. My sense of curiosity for these doohickeys is lackluster at best; I imagined he was playing Ouija with someone in Vietnam or drawing a picture of a kitty as I really don’t care about its true capabilities. Computers should live in two places: atop a desk or heavily and gradually warming on your lap. No other location. I have enough buttons to press in my day than to spend my free time ice-skating my index finger upon an increasingly greasy screen over dinner. Mesmerized by his own toy, he barely made eye contact with the waitress feeding him Sam Adams. Surprisingly he broke the silence with likely the best left-handed pick-up line ever, “Hey, ever seen one of these?” Aww, he wanted to share with the class. I had seen one of those, of course, living in the Early Adopter corner of the country. He proceeded to explain his occupation as a wedding photographer and capturing the “beauty of love”. Beauty of love? Right. Other than Photoshop, we had nothing in common. The iPad remained switched ‘on’ upon the table next to the beer until he offered to show me a few shots he had taken from a recent wedding. Fair enough, feigning interest comes easily; I do it all day long at work. “Sliding” through tens and soon hundreds of photos he became more excited about explaining his process and his hourly rate. (On a side note, marriage is an extortion racket.) I exchanged glances with my dinner companion across the table, who gave me the international look of “How Do We Get Rid Of This Guy?!” an impatient yet subtle bulging of the eyes, as the man continued commentating on each… and … every… photograph.
This is the type of social unawareness that makes me question how America’s children will turn out. I have a friend in her early twenties who makes plans with me publicly via Twitter. With the 160 character limit, it takes no less than 6 tweets and several hours to solidify a time and place followed by a series of texts while en route. You know what’s also good? Picking up the telephone and solving the matter in less than thirty seconds. I’m twenty-eight not sixty, but it feels more and more inappropriate to reach out to someone directly. Why call when you can email? Why email when you can text? We don’t use telephones to interact anymore. If kids are fiddling around with Mommy’s iDevice from infancy then certainly the disgruntled “kids these days” phrase will undoubtedly precede “…are a bunch of fucking weirdos with thumb arthritis and an aversion to eye contact.” It seems no one ever thought to question how the new technology would affect social interaction. Can it be called progress if it’s diluting the fundamentals of human nature?
At the close of the meal with Captain Overshare (or General Don’t-Know-When-To-Stop) and his subsequent slideshow, we had consumed a grilled chicken sandwich each and approximately 900 photographs. 900 photographs of someone else’s wedding. Unaware that showing a couple of strangers at a restaurant hundreds of photos of strangers is inappropriate, his “presentation” had also consumed our entire dinner together. So, I ask you: put your phone back in your pocket and put away your iWhatever and try talking to someone without the prop.