Down on the Farm: We're all phonies
It’s not just the kids.
Last week, I observed an retired Midwestern gentleman walking his golden retriever near the beach. I heard his phone beep. A text message had arrived.
He pulled off the sidewalk, dug out his phone, and sat on a bench. As he read the message, he absent-mindedly draped the end of the leash over his leg.
As he struggled to tap out a message on the screen with his dairy-farmer thumbs, the leash fell to the ground. The young retriever, still curious about the world, sensed freedom and quietly sniffed his way down the nearby hedge.
The man didn’t notice. He was busy trying to get those thumbs to work on his phone. Perhaps somebody back home had checked his house and found frozen pipes. Or, perhaps his granddaughter hit a basket in a gym somewhere in South Dakota.
Who knows. But the dog, leash dragging, disappeared into the crowd by the fish stand, eager to follow its nose through the rich buffet of California scents. The man tapped away. Perhaps he was playing a word game with a sibling in Chicago.
Our phones have taken us over––even those of us old enough know better, those of us who think, against all evidence, that we’re too mature to be controlled by our gadgets.
My father, born in the Great Depression when their house ring was three longs and a short, now calls me from the woods where he is cutting firewood.
His ring, and he won’t be thrilled to hear this, is the aooooogah of a Model T horn. “Aoooogah,” goes the phone.
“Oh, it’s Dad,” I say in California. “The pipes must be frozen.”
Nope. He’s just worried that the pipes might be frozen. That’s much better than the pipes being frozen. In fact, it is nice to know Dad’s worrying, because then the pipes will likely not freeze. The sheer energy of Dad’s worry generates heat where it is needed, it seems.
I know before I answer the phone that Dad’s worried about the pipes because I just checked the temperature back home on my phone five minutes before. Fifteen below at noon, rising to twelve below at coffee time, sinking to thirty below by morning. Brrr. Too much information. I shove the phone back in my pocket—for a minute, at most, before it is time to check whether anybody has liked the photo of the beach I posted on Facebook.
Ridiculous, of course.
But it isn’t all silly. I would still be lost somewhere out on the California highway system if it were’t for the lady inside my phone.
“In 400 feet, turn left onto Visalia Avenue,” she says. I don’t think, I just obey orders.
“Find me a cup of coffee,” I ask her when I need some stimulus. She thinks.
“There are three coffee shops nearby which may be of interest to you,” she answers. I select one.
“In fifty feet, take a left at Oak Avenue,” she responds immediately.
It is too late. I am in the right lane. I cannot cross eight lanes in fifty feet. So I go through the intersection.
Does this confuse the phone lady? Does she scold me, tell me I have really done it now, despair over what we’re going to do, tell me to stop at a gas station for directions?
Nope. She adjusts within ten feet of me violating her command. No anger. No judgement.
Yes, it is easy to decry phones as the vice of youth. Kids use them for their own preoccupations, most of which have something to do with finding acceptance from peers.
But older people use phones for our preoccupations, which usually have something to do with finding a cup of coffee. Or a restaurant that fries its fish rather than serving it raw. Or a rest area.
And do we know when to stop using them, we geezers?
Not always. The other day, I passed a woman driving sixty-five with her phone in one hand, a cigarette in the other. Apparently, the car was on autopilot.
But in California, they have raised bumps between the lanes. If you drift, brrump, brrump, brrump, the bumps simultaneously shake the ash from your cigarette and remind you that Ashley’s three pointer back in Sioux Falls has to take a back seat while you grab the wheel.
Technology. It is making our lives easier by the day.