We went to one of our semi-regular places this morning for our semi-regular practice of a weekend breakfast out. While I waited for my fully-regular order, I noticed the booth across the aisle. A mother sat there with her two young boys.
One of the boys was probably around four or five and had brought a toy car to the diner with him. The other boy was young enough to be in a highchair (and the cutest onesie I’ve seen in a long time). Both boys were well-behaved, but the older one went from booth to booth looking for people to talk to and other children to play with, while his younger brother looked around for someone to make eye-contact with.
While she waited for her food, their mother was fully engrossed with her phone, texting, reading emails, checking various social media platforms, looking at pictures. A few times the older boy called out unsuccessfully for her to notice something. She couldn't be pulled away from the phone.
When the food came, the phone went to a position by her plate, so she could keep looking at it while they ate their food. The phone remained at the center of attention, the very focal point of her time in the diner.
I’m in no position to judge her. I have no reason to believe she is a bad parent or a bad person. And, except when I babysat decades ago, I have never had to sit through a meal shared only with children. I have no kids and the world of the future is probably better off for that.
I am also no better than she; it is a difficult thing for me to go through a meal without checking my phone. I can’t walk the dog in the morning without it. I check it immediately before sleeping and immediately before rising. I have it with me when I watch a show or a movie in the evening.
Watching her instead called to mind something I have thought about, if not personally addressed, many times before. We live in a time when the virtual too often trumps the real. We’d rather text with someone far away than talk to the person in front of us. We’d rather read about someone else’s life on Facebook than live our own. We would rather edit our experiences for Instagram than fully live them. Hell, much of the time we’d rather sext or use a hookup app than actually have real, human-contact-involving sex.
Maybe part of the reason some among us dream of achieving immortality through uploading themselves into computers—and are satisfied that this would be a good existence—is that many of us already cannot imagine a life lived any way other than virtually.