Our gadgets are smart, so we don’t have to be

Here’s a column that’s set to appear in the April 6 edition of The Flamethrower’s Kitsap A&E section:

Smart phones are making us stupid. It’s the ultimate irony.

It hit home yet again the other day when I was having a conversation with an acquaintance during a recent early-morning Bremertron-Seattle ferry ride. Or, more accurately, trying to have a conversation, since any time the back-and-forth called for anything from him (not his real gender, which has been changed to protect his identity), there was a pause while he consulted his smart phone. Before he could answer any question, make any comment or add to the dialogue in any meaningful way, he was obliged to whip up the appropriate application and check the information or instruction contained therein.

I casually mentioned that I was headed out to Issaquah. My companion responded with a finger in the air — a request for my indulgence — and a locked gaze onto the screen of his smart phone, from which he sent an inquiry off into cyberspace via his two lightning fast thumbs in blurred action over the instrument’s tiny keypad. After what seemed like only a few seconds, he informed me that the normal 14-minute drive to Bellevue was, on this occasion, going to take me 16 minutes.

I considered the nugget and shrugged. “So? It’s two minutes. And it’s not like there’s an alternate route.”

He seemed deeply hurt, and scuttled off for a muffin, never to return.

***

An illustration of just how attached we are to our gizmos is how much trouble folks have putting them down, even after they’re asked to. I often see people at stage plays — “the thea-tah,” as I like to pronounce it — who squeeze out every last second of whatever the crap it is they’re doing through the announcement asking them to silence, through the curtain, through the overture, often through the opening lines of dialogue — before they finally, grudgingly, shut their little doohickeys down.

I recently saw a show that was divided into a number of brief segments (instead of the traditional two acts with intermission). A couple rows in front of me were a family of four, all armed with their phones, which glowed with their own individual messages or games right up until the first monologue began. And then, between monologues — breaks of between 30 and 60 seconds, usually — on they came again.

It could, I suppose, have been worse: At least they all were plugged in to earbuds.

***

One of the enduring images I have recent years was one evening when I was walking through a near-deserted Kitsap Mall, and a quartet of teenage boys passed me going the other direction. They were elbow-to-elbow, and each of them were feverishly working their phones, churning out various text messages, seemingly taking no notice of each other, and definitely oblivious to everything else. If I hadn’t slid over towards the wall, they’d have mowed me down and threshed me like a shock of Kansas wheat. It wasn’t until they actually passed me that I realized they were texting … each other.

I grinned at first, thinking they were sending messages back and forth to each other about the girls they were seeing in the mall … until I remembered there were practically no people in the mall. Were they just more comfortable communicating that way? That couldn’t be.

Could it?

***

Our obsession with cell phones and other hand-held gadgets never resonated quite as strongly with me as during my most recent visit to Disneyland. It’s the happiest place on earth, you know, and it didn’t earn that designation for having crystal-clear WiFi (although it might well, now that I think of it).

On one sun-drenched mid-morning, a father and son walked haphazardly in front of us on our way through Frontierland, the youngster dancing around Dad and begging for a left turn that would take them to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Dad seemed oblivious, nose nearly touching the screen of his phone, thumbs blazing, trudging straight ahead. “There’s only a 15-minute wait for the Autopia, buddy.”

“But I don’t want to go on the Autopia! I can’t even reach the peddle!”

Dad stopped in his tracks and fixed the boy with a knowing, sympathetic, vaguely fatherly gaze, and then gestured toward the phone. “Fifteen minutes. Dude,” he said, and resumed both his trek toward Tomorrowland — offspring still bounding around him like a puppy, completely ignored — and his rapt pursuit of cyber knowledge.

I shook my head and asked my daughter what she wanted to do next, knowing full well what her answer would be with her favorite ride that close by.

“Thunder Mountain? The line’s pretty long,” I said.

She said she didn’t care, and we headed for the entrance. “Anyway,” she said, looking up at me, “I know two people who won’t be in front of us.”

MM columns

About michael c. moore

Michael C. Moore covers arts and entertainment for the Kitsap Sun. He's been a newspaper reporter and editor for more than 33 years, at the Sun since 2001 and in his current post — covering music, art, theater, film and other A&E fare, since 2006. He's a 1978 graduate of Washington State University, and lives in East Bremerton with his daughter, Kate.

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