I saw a guy outside the building where I teach. He was smoking a cigarette and thumb-scrolling through his iPhone and I thought, as is befitting my status as an edging-toward-40-year-old, What did we do before cell phones? We sat and thought. Thinking is a lost art. (Not that I necessarily believe thinking is an art. But maybe it is.) As soon as I had that thought, though, I felt cynical and embarrassed for myself. Isn’t this age-old, really? Weren’t our grandparents saying, What did we do before TV? We read books!” And weren’t their grandparents saying, What did we do before reading books? We told stories! And on an on and on and on and so it goes forever and ever and ever and you get the point, right? Things change. And lamenting the change seems to be the hip thing to do (I recently saw this book on the kids’ shelves) but it’s not. It’s old-fashioned.
Yes, before the Smartphones, we spent more idle time. Before email, we wrote. Before the car, we walked. Dylan told us the times were changing and we smoked weed and grooved along (well, I didn’t; that was still before my time) but it seems that we are so much more disturbed by it than we should be. New developments beget new problems, which beget new developments to solve those problems and so on.
What we’re doing here is grieving. Missing our youth and familiarity. Mourning a reality that is no longer real. I don’t, for example, think it’s sad that students don’t know how to spell. I used to be sad about that, but I’m not. They don’t need to know how to spell like we did. They have spell-check. What they need to know how to do is operate complicated technology and function in a world that is changing incredibly fast. They don’t have the capacity to do everything well. I also don’t, despite my knee-jerk thought reaction this morning, think it’s a shame that people spend their cigarette breaks with their iPhones.
I’m done being rueful and sarcastic and cynical about the changing world and the way people do things or the things people no longer do. It’s just part of the fabric of human existence and we’re all pretty much powerless against the forward motion.