Last Saturday I had an early morning flight from DC (Currently being renamed Domain of Charlatans) to Miami. My family and I had Disney World on the brain upon my arrival so making the 6:30 am flight was a relatively easy sacrifice.
Somehow in my 40’s I became the person I was supposed to become in my 30’s ( I’ve always been a late bloomer), so mornings are now my thing. As a general pre-dawn rule of thumb, I do not use my phone the first hour of the day. Besides the fact that I have way too many other things to do in the early hours, including cleaning leftover frying pans teeming with petrified eggs and bacon, I’m not coordinated enough to properly swipe the screen.
Teenagers are different though. They live in an “Unbrave” New World where waking up is easy as long as they have phone battery life and at least three digital devices within arm’s reach. Not that they do anything other than caress those devices the first hour of their day, but that’s not the point..In their minds, despite being entirely cloaked in a digital fog, they are on up and “connecting” to the world around them.
Which brings me to my point. I had an already been up over an hour so I was sort of fidgeting with my phone. On the plane next to me were two teenage siblings, at least I assume they were teenagers because they were Snapchatting. Yes I know people of all ages Snapchat, including the Ghost of Christmas Past, John McCain, Obama and Napolean Bonaparte. But for anyone to “snap” this early in the morning, they had to be unable to legally purchase a drink much less an R-rated movie ticket
I am unsure what or why they were snapping, but they were snapping away, ten second endorphin boosting, pheromone emitting bursts of digital desire. From the looks of things, they were in snaptopia, almost begging American Airlines to find some mechanical defect with the plane so they had more time to snap. As a foil, I started reading and annotating the newspaper, just to give them a glimpse of what the dinosaurs still do.
They seemed to be uninterested but at least they didn’t point me out as the type of potential disturbance we are warned to report in the pre-flight announcements.
I think part of the problem is that kids are warned but not shown. Hinted at but not directed. Then again the problem could be the phones themselves. Just as nicotine includes addictive agents, the transmitters phones use must send waves of pheromones, more seductive than oysters to a woman, more powerful than the salivatory response when exposed to the smell and sight of freshly baked Krispy Kreme Donuts. In fact, clinical research corroborates this statement, though I’m fairly certain that even Steve Jobs with all of his tactile obsession never intended nor anticipated the compulsiveness his Iphone would generate.
Sure swiping is fun. Far better than smoking or biting one’s nails. But I’m assuming Jobs was far too learned or concerned about making the future a better replace than to intellectually paralyze most of the adolescent population.
I studied a little developmental psychology and from what I reckon the teenage years, despite the obsession with instant gratification are an irreplaceable time to build neural connections, develop academic passions, improve task awareness and establish lifelong study skills. All I know is that the the middle and high school students I teach in DC kind of like learning, but not when it interferes with their constitutional right to snapchat. Unfortunately the teachers for whom I substitute forget to leave a lesson plan comprehensive enough that would minimize the opportunity to swipe, tap and press, then rinse and repeat. While subbing third period last week, I asked one of my 8th grade students who was snapping, how many snapchats she had sent that day – her response, “not very much, like 25”.
(Study compiled by Donald J. Trump, Neurobiology Department Head at Trump University)
But back to the air. The flight took off a tad before 7 am and I confess to having a bit of swiping withdrawal. I actually could have used the plane’s wifi to get service on my phone but wanted to at least discipline myself to make the two hour flight without caressing my phone. The teenagers were plugged in, listening to music, playing games and looking at pictures. And then just when I was about to lose hope in all Generation Swipe, something magical happened. Snapchat girl pulled out a biology textbook and what seemed like a set of homework problems. For the next ten minutes, or maybe three, all societal pessimism was suspended as she diligently worked through several problems without any sighting of her phone. Brain activated. Neurons firing, paper and pen restored to the human order of operations.
Studies show that the average adult checks his/her phone over 150 times a day and uses it at family meals about 20 percent more than teenagers. This fact came from an article in Wired Magazine, not Donald Trump. I might be one of those adults, especially if I am trying to figure out what to buy at the grocery store. But once upon a time I could sit and read for two hours without any digital interruptions and write for even longer. I have proof of being able to survive in an analog world.
I’m still trying to figure out which of the literary conflicts best applies to the adolescent connection to their phones. I think its man v. Man. If the protagonist does really have free-will, it’s no longer man v. himself. So I use the upper case M for the antagonist because the phone is some type of superbeing. It has the 3 O’s which are usually associated with God, yes including omniscience. In fact, why build a $100 million public library when you can just give everyone free wifi?
I could go on and on about all the metaphysics of this new digital frontier. But that’s for science fiction writers to capture. All I know is that there doesn’t seem to be any way for man to beat the machine or MAN. The machines are getting stronger, more ubiquitous and more manipulative. In contrast, man doesn’t even have time to muster a defense.
Within five seconds of touching ground in Miami, my neighbors loaded up the Iphone and started massaging their apps. I’m almost positive the girl Snapchatted and her brother went on Facebook. I asked the passing stewardess for leftover newspapers. For them, waiting two hours for full phone use probably felt like they had just conquered nature, some type of rugged endurance test akin to running a half triathalon in adverse weather conditions. Meanwhile “the dinosaur” tried to follow his five minute rule of not touching the phone to savor the touchdown experience.
My neighbors seemed happy. I was feeling literal and minor digital hunger pangs.
Although I was home, I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I obviously have no place in this digital paradise, I mean dystopia.