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