People who stare at screens (updated)

July 24, 2014

“Does anyone plan to stare at their phones some place exciting this weekend?”

This comment which I read on an online comic strip this morning could only have been written in our current era. The telephone has morphed into a device which has immobilized much of our brains and corrupted our language. In particular it has savaged the rules of English grammar, invalidating the specific references created by proper use of pronouns. But if one can broadcast every narcissistic impulse to the entire cyber-universe as soon as it occurs, why bother to distinguish between the one and the many, between her and their?

I blame the daycare generation for the increasing reliance upon “their” as a grammatical crutch. In a universe of interchangeable people, why value one particular friend beyond the convenience of shared toys? Why bother to keep track of who is who when “they” is easier?

Conversations with graduate students over the last few years have increasingly become punctuated by Google quotes. In fact it wasn’t at all uncommon for the four or five people in the room to have MacBooks, iPhones or Galaxies open while they chatted. Mind you the conversations delved far more deeply into topics than they used to, and this alpha male’s recourse to B.S. when the facts ran out has been dramatically reduced by fact-checking family members. But a good memory for details seems no longer to be required. If I can’t remember an actor’s name, for example, all I need do is look up the cast list from a remembered movie or T.V. series to get the information.

Perhaps the ultimate manifestations of the dominance of the smart phone came during a visit to our son in Vancouver this spring. He had located an Italian restaurant online and led Bet and me off, Pied-Piper-style, while he brandished his Galaxy in front of him. We walked for a long time, but each complaint received an “Only a couple of blocks more!” response until eventually we arrived.

As we sat down Charlie blasted off a quick text message. An answering beep informed us that Roz had left work and was already on a city bus, converging upon our new location. She skilfully planned a route through the maze of Vancouver streets on her phone, and twenty minutes later she casually strolled up to our patio table, Galaxy still in hand.

A day later when we hiked up the side of a mountain and I ran out of wind halfway up, Roz whipped out her phone, called up a picture of the summit, and playfully suggested I photograph it to prove to Bet and Charlie that we had made it to the top. So it’s little wonder Parks Canada has introduced Internet service on their properties. Today’s citizens see no reason to cut themselves off from the Internet while they enjoy their lives.

While today’s denizens of the western world may appear to stare blankly at phones and laptops for long periods of time, they don’t get lost much, have continual access to good information, and get to enjoy live videos of grandkids, if they have any. What’s more, I have built and installed four flights of stairs for friends’ homes this summer and they all fitted perfectly, thanks to a $13.00 spreadsheet I downloaded to my MacBook Air.

One of my favourite screen-starers, Dr. Martin Mallet, did this interview recently:


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