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Friday, September 30, 2016

Hell Is Other People’s Smart-Aleck Phones

Most of the time, I like other people. I enjoy pictures of other people’s dogs and cats and babies and grandchildren and vacations. I’ve always enjoyed personal peeks into other people’s lives.

When I was a kid, my family made two treks a year to a Christmas tree farm run by country friends, the first time to choose and claim our tree, the second time to cut it and bring it home – but not until after we spent a good portion of the day enjoying hot cocoa and holiday cookies and a slide show (or was it home movies?) of the friends’ summer vacation. I loved those images of the other family's life, and we made that second trek knowing and anticipating the entertainment that would be part of the day’s agenda. We were not kidnapped by it.

A couple friends and I used to get together in spring and fall to hike trails, have lunch, and catch up on one another’s lives. The catching-up often involved small photo albums. That was fun, too.

In an earlier era, not all that long ago, two people might meet and pull snapshots out of their billfolds to show one another. Fair enough. Nice! Cute kid! Or dog or cat or whatever.

But now, omigod, the ubiquitous so-called “smart” phones are in everyone’s hands – or on the restaurant table right beside the soup spoon – and there is no way to hold the attention of friend or stranger or family member when a phone demands to be given priority. “Just a minute. I have to take this.” Laughter. “Listen to this!” A text message is read aloud to you, from someone you have never met and very likely will never meet. The recipient finds it hilarious. You, not so much. Recipient must respond. You wait.

If the person you have met for this long-awaited lunch had only brought a handful of photographs, you might browse through the pictures while being put on live call-waiting, but no! Because the pictures, too, are now on the phone! And they are not arranged for easy access (they could be, but do you know a single person who has taken the trouble?), and you cannot take them in your own hands, but -- when at last your friend is at liberty to attend to your presence once more -- you must sit or stand patiently during a seemingly endless session of swipe, swipe, swipe – “No, that’s not it” – swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe.

I love my friends! I love my family! I’m often interested in strangers I meet! But am I the only one who often feels like a hapless hostage to other people’s phones? I’m here! Look at me! Talk to me!