And then came smartphones

and we all got dumber.

When your great-grandmother was young, the telephone was invented. There were switchboards and operators, and when the phone rang, it was always answered, even though they never knew who it would be. That was part of the thrill.

When your grandmother was a young mom, all of her friends had a telephone in their kitchens. The telephone was screwed high on the wall so the kids couldn’t get to it, and had a long cord. Grandma (called Mommy back then) would chat away the morning, drinking coffee, maybe smoking a cigarette, with the kids playing at her feet while she washed the dishes. She loved this connection to her friends, mother, sisters and other housewives, and she knew all of their phone numbers by heart.

When your mother was young she might have had a princess phone in her bedroom, and maybe even a second line that only rang in her room. But more likely the phone in her room was connected to the one in the kitchen, so when she was talking to her boyfriend, she’d have to scream at her little brother when he picked up the kitchen phone to listen in.

By the time you came along, some people had car phones. Julia Roberts carried a cellular phone as big as a brick in movies. And when your older cousin learned to drive, your aunt bought a cell phone for her to carry, just for emergencies, so she could call her mom (who sat by the house phone waiting) when she arrived safe.

Recently, it seems every adult in the world got a cell phone. Some carry them in their pocket; most require one hand to hold it wherever they go. Most started texting within the last decade. The phones got smaller and smarter, and we learned to play games on them, and check our email, and avoid answering when it rings because we always know who is calling.

You do not remember the world without today’s phones, and likely can’t imagine a flip-phone, or figure out how to dial an old rotary phone. You used to dig your mom’s phone out of her purse and looked cute swiping the pictures, accidentally calling your grandmother, and once you called Jamaica. You had your own phone when you were eight because you begged, and did the thing all kids do: convinced your parents you were the only third-grader without one. They love you, and wanted you to be quiet so they could bend their neck to their own phones, so they got you one. You became peaceful and enjoyable in the car. You no longer poked your little sister and made her cry. You no longer spoke to your family.

Now you are in college. You walk across the gorgeous campus and don’t see it because you are looking down. You don’t make eye contact or acknowledge others. You are safe in your bubble. You never feel like you are alone because you can always take out your phone and look busy and important. You pick it up and check messages, tweets, instagram, facebook, snapchat, and even email a thousand times a day. You reach for it as soon as you wake up. You even keep it on your lap in class.

It’s ok. You’re an adult and you get to  decide how to use your time. But what will you tell your parents when your grades aren’t great? You’ll say you always go to class, but can you say you listen in class? Can you promise them their hard-earned tuition money, that they scraped together for fifteen years instead of buying shoes or taking a vacation, is appreciated so much that you leave your phone on silent, zipped up in your bag, for every second of lecture? Can you promise your grandfather who gave you the “family scholarship” and his old car, and pays your car insurance, that you are not wasting his generosity?

They used to say a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Today young people squander their entire lives, neck bent, fingers tap-tap-tapping away on an electronic gadget provided by a generous adult who loves them.

 

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One thought on “And then came smartphones

  1. there are cell phones and movies in cars and at the dinner table for kids to watch so they’re occupied and entertained. we had books to look at. paper books. and coloring books and crayons. we created images in our heads with books and drew them with the crayons.

    loved your post. mom was a switchboard operator after high school and i think Aunt was, too.

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