The Age of the Smart Phone

I hope this doesn’t come across wrong. Yesterday I hung out with college kids, and to be perfectly honest, I’ve had more fun eating raw papier mâché. Which I actually did once when I was nineteen.

I was expecting to have a wild and crazy time since these were, after all, nineteen-year-olds. It was anything but fun. It was sleep inducing.

Don’t get me wrong, these sophomores were great kids. Well-behaved, good grades, nice-looking, polite. It’s just that they were too busy thumb-typing on smartphones to notice me.

We were at the mall because my wife and everyone’s parents were seeing a movie together. It was a romance movie and I didn’t want to go. Mostly because “romance movies” are rarely about real romance. They are usually about two people who yearn for three hours then kiss right before the credits.

That’s not romance. Ask any married guy. Romance is when a man, acting of his own free will, picks up his dirty laundry from the bedroom floor and places it into a hamper without being asked. When a man does this he is transformed from a North American sasquatch into George Clooney.

So the college kids and I were wandering around a shopping complex. But nobody was talking. Which brings me to my main point (and I promise I will be sensitive when I say this since teenagers might actually read it):

Get. Off. Your. Phones.

Don’t even finish reading this stupid column. You’re not missing anything worthwhile, I promise. Just put the phone down and go find some papier mâché.

Of course I have no room to judge. Who am I to point the finger? Nobody, that’s who. My parents used to warn me that TV would turn my brain into slush, but did I listen? No. An jus lookit me noww.

But when I was in this crowded mall, I noticed almost everyone beneath age ninety-seven was thumb-tapping on cellphones and staring downward. The place was eerily quiet. Nobody was talking.

I’ll give you an example of how one college-age conversation went.

COLLEGE KID 1 (Staring at phone.): So, did you hear about Karen?

KID 2: Sorry, I was texting. What was that?

KID 1: Never mind, I’ll text it to you. (Thumb-typing.)

KID 2: (Phone dings.)

KID 1: (Phone dings.)

KID 2: (Phone dings.)

KID 1: (Phone dings.)

KID 2: (Phone dings.)

KID 1: (Phone dings.)

This kind of intellectual banter was only interrupted by what I will call the “Group Selfie Phenomenon.” This is when kids pose together for no apparent reason, smiling as if they have just climbed Mount Shasta when all they have done is cross the street without getting hit by a UPS truck.

These photographic poses take a long time to perfect. The girls, for instance, fluff their hair. The boys wear half-smiles similar to a look Burt Reynolds might have worn for a Jockey undershorts advertisement.

They shoot 1,354 sequential photographs then resume texting in silence.

I realize that I am making unfair generalizations here, and I probably sound like an old fart. But I sincerely don’t get it. How did this happen?

I’m not that old. It wasn’t so long ago that I was a teenager. Sure, maybe if earlier generations would’ve had cellphones we might have been just as bad. But we didn’t have them, so this means we are entitled to be judgmental self righteous egomaniacs.

We had no texting, no videoing, no group photos, no streaming TV episodes while on the john, no playlists, podcasts, social media, and no GPSs.

And trust me, a GPS would have been great back then. Especially when you were picking up your date Marsha Longfellow from her house.

Marsha lived in the boonies. You had to use a Rand McNally map to follow a complex string of unmarked county roads which all either led to abandoned pulp mills or cattle pastures. Many of Marsha’s dates died this way.

I’ll admit, I didn’t go to many malls as a teenager, either. Namely, because our nearest malls were far away. We had the Santa Rosa Mall, which smelled like toe fungus. And the Cordova Third World Mall in Pensacola, which was four hundred miles away, on foot, uphill, both ways, barefoot, through a blizzard of Florida snow.

But if we ever DID go to the mall we talked with each other. And I mean we really had conversations. They weren’t intelligent conversations, but there were no long gaps of silence between responses.

Sure, we were stupid and reckless. I’m not saying we weren’t. Once, we siphoned gas from Charlie Little’s Chevette in the movie theater parking lot.

When Charlie discovered his tank was empty he went inside to call his dad for a ride. Whereupon we refilled his tank again. When Charlie’s dad checked the gas gauge it was a Biblical-style miracle.

Charlie Little caught me. And that is why I still walk with a limp.

But whatever idiotic things we did, we did them without gazing at phones. And I’d like to think we saw more of this world with our heads up rather than facing down.

Anyway, when my wife’s movie let out, a crowd of adults met us in the food court. My wife sat between two sophomores and asked if everyone had fun.

The kids answered with an enthusiastic “YES.”

But I didn’t hear the question because, at the time, I was thumb-typing this on my phone.


  1. Elizabeth - January 8, 2020 11:23 am

    It’s a different world!

  2. Ann - January 8, 2020 11:34 am

    This is soooooo today!!…we have a bunch of great kids, but there is a problem with verbal communication, eye contact and it’s not just the kids?!! It is too bad because they do miss a lot going on around them…plus the “ addiction “……. do you ever watch someone panic when the have misplaced their phone?😱…
    It’s a whole other world but the only one they know….however, we can share our simple times as you do AND I have found if my family are on their phones in group….I text them…PUT IT AWAY… works every time
    ( also, Rand McNally is in all of our vehicles)….

  3. GaryD - January 8, 2020 12:14 pm

    I must admit. At this late stage of my life I never learned to thumb-type. I do it the old-fashion way; I use the old one index finger typing mode.

  4. Lita - January 8, 2020 12:24 pm

    Brilliant, with the brilliance of truth. My 18 year old grand daughter does all of that with gothically long, false fingernails. How?

  5. Emily - January 8, 2020 1:10 pm

    I’m that odd in between generation. Smart phones didn’t exist till I was in my mid to late 20’s, and I’m very certain this and being raised in poverty for most of my childhood saved me in an odd way. There are so many people of my generation and after that have no idea how to read body language, have a fun conversation or do anything without staring at their palm screens. I have seen my best friend watch TV, play angry bird and check her Instagram all at the same time on 3 screens. I may read your column in the morning but after that music is on and phone is down. Maybe soon we will all put them down and look for the truth outside the media hell in our pockets.

  6. Dawn A Bratcher - January 8, 2020 2:06 pm

    I was going right along with your story, all frustrated about people and cell phones…then, BAM!… You replace it with laughter! Great writers can do that, you know. 😎

  7. Donna - January 8, 2020 2:43 pm

    Yes, this. I’m an old 61 who refuses to have a “smart” phone. I prefer to be addicted to my laptop.

  8. Shelton A. - January 8, 2020 2:55 pm

    Phone rules in schools because kids cheat that way. Staring at phones while driving…people die that way and usually not the one staring at their phone.

  9. Margaret Craig - January 8, 2020 3:58 pm

    Unfortunately it’s not just kids. Most of my friends check their phones constantly. Unless your house is on fire or someone is bleeding, put the phones down! Be in the NOW!

  10. Linda Moon - January 8, 2020 4:40 pm

    I’m glad I’m the age of a smart brain, significantly beneath 97. So, the kids you were with HAD FUN and you thumb-typed. I am currently reading WILD AND CRAZY, a book about people who knew how to have fun. Hearing questions and verbally answering them is likely appreciated most in the smart brains of the folks who enjoy this age-old exchange of ideas. Smart brains will always trump “smart” phones! I will notice you, Writer, even though you thumb-typed this column!!

  11. Bill T - January 8, 2020 6:27 pm

    My wife has an iPhone and its caused her more grief than our 4 children when they were teens. And then two of the children have to fix it for her as she is constantly pushing a wrong button. And it costs over $800 and $100 a month with military discount. I have a $50 cell phone that texts and works as a telephone so my wife can call me and tell me she is on the way home from shopping. I have tremors so if I text I have to use a stylus, so I don’t do that much.
    My first cell phone was a bag phone bought from Sears so my wife could call me and tell me she was on the way home from shopping and that was at 50 cents a call.
    I do believe future generations will have giant size thumbs as animals adapt to the environment.
    Not to mention idiots that text while driving and die or kill others. Wow!!

  12. Pamela Meyers - January 8, 2020 7:04 pm

    I agree with you 100%. I think have a 23 year old daughter. I had to actually teach her to put down her phone and really talk to the people that she’s
    with. Notice and enjoy her surroundings. Live out here instead of in her phone.

  13. Sandi. - January 9, 2020 7:13 am

    Cell phone addiction has reached far beyond epidemic proportions. Many folks cannot even use the bathroom without their cell phone in one hand. Teens rarely talk on dates anymore. Instead they sit across the table or beside each other and text one another.

  14. Jane Ann Jones - January 10, 2020 5:40 pm

    And the art of listening is going down the tubes too!
    Thanks for this.

  15. Karen G - January 10, 2020 10:51 pm

    No truer words have ever been written – even on a phone 🤦🏻‍♀️

  16. Connie Havard Ryland - January 11, 2020 2:28 pm

    There’s a lot of truth to this. But I’m an old lady and I like having a smart phone. It’s usually close by. I talk to my adult children, if not every day, at least 3 or 4 times a week. I read your marvelous column. I have emails, both work and personal, so that if I’m needed I can be reached. This is my computer. I can’t thumb type to save my life. It’s a one finger jab. But it works. When my granddaughter and I are together we talk about everything under the sun, and when we all have dinner, phones are put away. It’s all about balance.

  17. Susan Gleadow - January 13, 2020 7:39 pm

    Everytime I see a sea of people with their heads down all I can think is “if only we would pray this much”…

  18. Steve Winfield (Gus) - February 14, 2020 3:10 am

    I remember when beepers went digital. I thought the world had really gone high tech then.

  19. Annie M Cole - February 14, 2020 3:22 pm

    I spent a week preparing for a hayride/chili supper one October for our church youth. It was the perfect Autumn night for the long ride through the Alabama countryside. What were the kids doing? You guessed it. All heads were down, gazing at their phones. I asked the girl next to me who she was talking to. She pointed to the girl sitting next to her. Mercy!


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