This is serious. Deadly serious. Death of humankind serious. The transformation of the kind we call humans into some other kind. The radical shift from genetic evolution based on carbon-based DNA to the silicone-enhanced evolution of an emerging new organism with biological traits enhanced with external add-ons capable of augmenting reality at best, and transforming the mental architecture of the once-human mind at worst. You’ve seen it many times and shaken your head as if there’s nothing to be done, nothing that can be done.
You’re sitting in a restaurant enjoying a calorie-laden apple strudel with an old friend, truly appreciating the pleasantries of a chatty meal filled with remembrances of the past, awareness of the present, the rich scent of coffee, the thrum of traffic from the street, the taste of sweet apples, the affectionate eyes of a friend you’ve known for a lifetime. Just as you’re about to share the bill, in walks a young couple, the boy opening the door distractedly, his eyes downcast on his hand looking up briefly to peruse the room; the girl following, the door slamming into her shoulder, her eyes never leaving her smartphone. A server comes over and asks them if they’d like a table, but neither of them reply. She asks again, and the girl nods her head, her eyes not looking up. The server leads them to a small booth, where they slide in, set their phones on the table between them, look at each other for an instant and then pick their up their phones again.
Do I need to go on? You’ve seen this picture. We all have. Thumbs texting and scrolling, a brief titter from the girl distracts the boy for just a moment, the boy puts his phone down, looks around and then picks it up again as if nothing in the room is more interesting than what’s on the screen.
The server sets menus on the table that are ignored until she asks if they’d like to order something. She stands. They scroll and stroll through another world. She walks away. You observe the scene for a while and then lean in toward your friend and whisper, “We used to talk on our dates.”
Is this scene really an exaggeration, or can we all admit that we’ve seen this behavior at restaurants, in airports, on public transportation, in the checkout line? Kids waiting for the school bus stare at their phones. The heads of passengers in cars crane downward. And not just young people, but couples married for 30 years sit in their living rooms looking at their devices rather than each other. Maybe you. Maybe me. Maybe soon all of what we used to call humanity.
I don’t really care about the warning signs of physical and mental illness: nomophobia, the fear of being without a phone; reports of physical and mental distress; panic, confusion and a sense of isolation by college students when deprived of their phones for just 24 hours; the anxiety and depression brought on when a new post doesn’t get enough likes fast enough; young kids feeling lonely, isolated, depressed and suicidal; people sleeping with their phones or worse, not being able to fall asleep because the blue light won’t let them, even after it’s turned off (reportedly worse than a cup of coffee before bedtime).
I’m not concerned about text claw, neck pain, obesity, eye problems or shrinking hippocampi where our memories used to be stored. The list of afflictions related to this addiction would take a whole page of the Enterprise to outline. The statistics are pouring in, and they’re an ugly, lonely sight, but not the worst symptom of our transition from carbon to siliconized carbon.
What worries me most is that our devices are distracting us from reality, taking our lives away, killing us slowly with distraction. The world is all around us, it’s present and, if we’re mindful, we can experience it directly in the sights, smells and sounds of life, rather than tweets, likes and videos. I’m no luddite and certainly our phones can put us in touch with the information world at a punch of the thumb, but it’s already gone too far too fast and many, many people, especially young people, are now addicted to images on screens, poses on pages, thumbs up and down.
This is not the real world, or at least it didn’t used to be. Maybe what scientists say is true, and it’s all just our gradual evolution to a new carbon-silicone species, the easy, inevitable transition from human to kind of human.
And what do we do? We shake our heads, roll our eyes and furtively glance down at the phone sitting out of sight on the bench next to us while we try to enjoy the last savory bite of apple strudel with our lifelong friend.
Jim Pesout is a retired high school teacher who lives in Mountain Ranch. You can reach him at email@example.com.