Tuesday, April 19, 2016
I stared at him. "Why, that's positively profound!" I found myself saying (not something I admit often to this sweet man).
We are all familiar with today's phenomom of young people staring incessantly at their phones--or maybe I should call them "hand-held electronic devices" since they are so much more than telephones. The obsession reflected on their faces indicates that something big is at stake in this digital activity. This is not a casual checking of messages or peeking at the forecast to see if they should have brought the umbrella after all.
Rather, what we see is a fixed, almost unblinking stare at the little screen in her hand. And yes, it is usually females I see afflicted in this way. She passes you on a narrow sidewalk without looking up. She walks through an ancient fort at the edge of a sparkling sea (a tour that her parents paid a lot of money to take the family through) without even a glance at the venerable stone walls or colorful soldiers. When she goes out with her friends, you might see them lined up on a bench, all silent, and furiously tapping out messages to someone, somewhere.
What is so urgent, so absorbing? Well, like the evil queen in Snow White, these young ladies are checking on how they compare to all the other young ladies in the world. How many messages do I have? How many people "liked" the photos that I posted this morning? Did anyone comment on my comment when they saw how brilliant it was? Did those guys from last night accept me as a connection? Am I, at this moment, the electronically fairest of them all--or at least not completely pathetic???
This level of anxiety makes the evil queen's tension, as she waits for her mirror to confirm her unmatched beauty, look like a warm, bubbly soak. And if this variety of networked self-absorption were not enough, today's young damsels can load an app that turns their phone into an actual mirror. Yes, thank goodness for those front-facing cameras and their vivid screens. She can buy the Makeup Mirror app and stare at herself as she walks along, checking her look in every light at every angle at every hour of the day. The app promises "awesome image visibility" and even has "gesture controls" (whatever those are).
This all makes me remember a classmate of mine in junior high. She had gone off to a camp one summer for a week. When I saw her afterward, she approached me grinning and said it was the best week she could remember. "Really? Why?" I asked. The best part of it all, she said, was that they did not provide any mirrors. For an entire week she did not think about how she looked, she just did things like hiking and swimming and making camp fires.
How wonderful, I thought. To be looking out, not in. Such a shame that we have gone explosively in exactly the other direction.
Image courtesy of Pinterest.