The kids in the breakfast joint are twenty-somethings, nice looking, and fit. The kind of people that belong in a running-shoe commercial. Or a beer commercial. Or a fragrance advertisement that takes place on a sailboat.
But something is off. They are taking pictures of their food. Each kid holds a phone above his or her plate.
And something else. They aren’t talking to each other. They aren’t even making eye contact.
They stare at their devices, eating with one hand, holding a phone in the other.
After breakfast, my wife and I head across town. I have a busy day. I have a small-town radio interview at ten.
We arrive at the station where I sit in the waiting room. Everyone in the room is young. Nobody is conversing. Lots of phones.
“Nice weather today,” I say to one woman.
She taps on her device and says, “Hmm.”
“They’re calling for rain tomorrow,” I go on.
“The building’s on fire,” I say. “We’re all gonna die a horrible death.”
I turn to the guy on my other side. “What’re you in for?”
But he’s listening to music on earphones.
And everyone else is gazing at electronic devices until their faces are slack-jawed and streams of drool fall from the corners of their mouths making puddles on the floor, which the custodian ought to be cleaning up, except he’s playing Fruit Ninja on his phone right now.
I’m invited into the sound-proof booth. We’re on the air. I wear headphones.
The host is not looking at me. Instead, he is looking at a phone. The engineer behind soundproof glass is playing on his phone, too. I could be wearing a taxidermied alligator skull for a hat and nobody would even notice.
This is getting bizarre, I’m thinking. I don’t think I’ve locked eyes with a single person today.
The interview goes bad. The host screws up my name and says, “My guest today is Sam Dietrich, author and columnist. Good morning, Sam, thanks for being with us.”
“Please, call me Sean,” I say.
He laughs. “Why not Sam?”
“Because that’s not my name.”
“Our guest today has been Sam Dietrich.”
For dinner, my wife and I order supper to-go at a sandwich shop. The place is packed. Customers in line are looking downward at phones.
One guy in line is so engrossed with his phone that when it’s his turn to order, it takes him nearly six years to notice the gap between him and the register.
So we wait. And wait. After I celebrate my eighty-sixth birthday someone finally tells the guy to “MOVE!” Eventually, it’s our turn.
“What can I get you, sir?” the sandwich professional asks.
I order a turkey sandwich, my wife orders salad. We pay for our food. On the way out, I pass a large group of middle-aged men at a long table. I count thirteen phones.
Nobody is talking. One gentleman is listening to music, another is streaming a television show, another appears to be thumb-typing a commentary on “War and Peace.”
Next, we head to our hotel. I’m walking through the lobby, which is overrun with people. And you already know where this is going. Everyone in the lobby is staring at glowing screens.
And I am sufficiently creeped out by all the phones.
When I was fourteen, I took Jenna Stepnowski to see this zombie movie in the theater. I hated horror movies, but Jenna Stepnowski didn’t. Jenna smelled very nice and wore dental braces. The movie scared the ever-loving shoeshine out of me, and I had to leave the theater early.
But I remember the plot, which went like this:
Average people were going about their normal lives. Then, invisible aliens sucked their brains out and transformed them into expressionless zombies who then became unable to form complete sentences and began exhibiting a sudden interest in pop-country music.
And that’s what all these phones remind me about. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against electronic devices, but this world is not the same world I grew up in.
For example: I haven’t made eye contact with a single person in twenty-four hours, unless you count the billboard of Garth Brooks on I-10. And not one person has engaged in conversation with me.
But I remember when people in public places talked. Conversation wasn’t unusual, or weird. It was commonplace, and expected even. And it was our only form of entertainment—not counting “Murder She Wrote.” And it was fun.
We used to chit-chat. We made each other laugh. We made eye contact. We were social. We talked about the box scores in the newspaper. And occasionally we would even make a new friend.
But then, maybe I’m just tired. After all, it’s been a long day. Right now, all I want is to eat my sandwich, lie on my hotel bed, and read a book.
We arrive at our room. I wave the magnetic card across the digital doorknob. The lock unlatches. I put on a complimentary bathrobe. My wife says grace over our to-go supper.
Then, I take seventeen photos of my sandwich and play with my phone until I fall asleep with it in my hands.
All the best,