On a recent trip to the garage, I considered taking a book to read while my car was being serviced. Why bother? I'd spend most of the waiting time on my cell phone- checking on emails, texts, and social media sites. Thanks to the cell phone, boredom is a thing of the past. It is the perfect babysitter for adults- the shinning object that grabs and holds our attention no matter where we are. That's a good thing. Right?
At the garage, I sat in a tiny waiting room with two other adults, their eyes glued to their shining objects. A young mother entered, pushing a shopping cart in which sat a cute little toddler. She took a large tablet in a protective sleeve from her bag and handed it to the child. He began contentedly looking at whatever was on the screen. The mother then sat down, turned her attention to her cellphone, and, like the rest of us sitting there, effectively left the room.
Except I kept coming back. There we were- five human beings crammed in a tiny space of ten square feet- and none of us had yet acknowledged the existence of the others. I had been so entuned to my shining object I hadn't even realized there was a large TV in the room blaring the news.
Twenty years ago, when entering a waiting room, one would have felt socially obliged to at least nod or mumble, "Hey, how you doing?" And the TV news would have been the catalyst for more interaction. Everyone could exchange smiles if a news story was funny, or shakes their heads and exchange knowing glances if the story was tragic.
I looked at the toddler with the tablet in the shopping cart. When he finally looked up, he stared- as I'd magically appeared from nowhere. I like little kids. I've always found it easy to connect with them. So, I smiled, made a goofy face, covered it with my hands, and began playing peek-a-boo- always a surefire way to get a smile from a toddler. This time I got nothing. The kid just stared at me with no hint of amusement, puzzlement, irritation, or even pity. And pity would have been appropriate given the extreme goofiness of my facial contortions.
I glanced around the tiny room. No one else was paying any attention to me- not even the kid's mother. When I looked back at the toddler, he was again staring at his tablet.
I sat there, pondering how the devices in our hands virtually connect us to the entire world while literally disconnecting us from those sitting next to us. There's no debating the immense value of this technology. But shouldn't we be able to leave our shining objects at home for an evening without feeling as if we've left the house pantless? Are we too plugged-in to our devices? How long does the average American spend online?
I Google-searched the question and spent the next half hour immersed in the results until realizing my name was blaring over the loudspeaker because my car was ready.
Rob Lauer is an award-winning, nationally-produced and published playwright with over 35 years of experience in the entertainment industry. His national credits include production work for MGA Films, Time/Warner TV, The Learning Channel and The History Channel. Locally, Rob has been producing, directing and hosting three TV series for PCTV (the City of Portsmouthâ€™s official channel) since 2011.