September 1, 2013

The real world and youth

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

The young woman stood at the counter at Subway waiting for her sandwich, her eyes locked on her cellphone.

My eyes were fastened on her, as her fingers worked the gizmo like magic, deftly flitting back and forth as if she had a mechanical hand attached to her wrist.

Her father, a gray-haired middle-aged man, stood next to her, ordering his food as she texted.
Occasionally, a smile spread across her face as she engaged in her silent, mysterious exchange.

I like to watch people. I’m always interested in who they are, what makes them tick, why they do what they do and what their lives are like.

As I watched this lovely, lithe young woman, long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, riveted to her tiny palm-held machine, I wondered what she does when not phoning or texting.

Does she read books, tend a vegetable garden, travel the countryside, visit the ocean, sit back and enjoy a sunset?

I wondered how many hours a day she spends on her phone, her sphere of experience as large as the space between her eyes and her hand.

I wondered what she misses, and I felt a pang of sympathy for her. She did not choose the era into which she was born, this increasingly technical, mechanical, digital, virtual world where our eyes are trained not to look at and appreciate the natural world as much as to revere a tiny, glowing screen that is capable of telling us anything we want to know, and more.

At times, I feel as if I’m lagging behind my younger, sharper colleagues whose technological skills are as second nature to them as digging in a pile of dirt is to me. I fear sometimes that I’m missing something critical, some knowledge that will keep me from failing.

But, still, I am sad for the young woman in the Subway shop who has likely spent many hours absorbed in a virtual world — hours that may have been spent in the company of friends, face-to-face, discussing important issues, riding horseback, trekking through the woods, swimming in lakes and streams and soaking in the beauty of a Maine sunset.

I know times change and it is important to adapt or we can be left behind.

As kids, we laughed when old people viewed our modern ideas, music and fast cars as new-fangled, foolish and destructive.

Now, my 20-something niece laughs at me as I struggle to program my cellphone.

As I consider the girl in Subway, it occurs to me that an exquisite sunset may give me a thrill, even after all these years, but she may not care a wink about them. It’s all about what one learns at an early age — about one’s frame of reference, I guess.

That sunset gives me a jolt — the same type of feeling she may experience when a certain message flashes across the screen of her little metal gadget.

 I can argue that viewing a sunset doesn’t cost a thing — it’s priceless, in fact — and that the use of technology is a costly pastime and someone is making a lot of money off it.

But I suspect that debate wouldn’t hold much weight with her and anyway, she’s going places.
And I? I’m just trying to tread water as I fix my gaze on that fabulous horizon.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 25 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at acalder@mainetoday.com

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