The Rip Van Winkle Effect

(part one of a series)

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I missed about a quarter century. During this time, the internet went from a quaint place for text based “chats” on bulletin boards accessed from a modem operating at a “blazing speed” of 56K bits per second (if you were lucky); to image-based content including live-streamed video. During this time, “cell-phones” went from voice-only service (normally utilizing transceivers the size and weight of bricks) to “smart-phones” that put the entire world at one’s fingertips. What this experience provided is a very unique perspective: a “rip van winkle” effect (by the way, in Washington Irving’s story, Rip Van Winkle only slept for 20 years; damn light-weight!).

When I left the nursing facility (“against doctor’s advice”), my younger sister had to introduce me to “smartphones”. It was a daunting task just to figure out “texting” and “emailing” (my sister had to set-up an email account for me). Every “app”, every website, and every point of contact; became a challenge for me. When things failed, I naturally assumed that I had done something wrong. To make matters worse, I was constantly confronted with people that seemed to know everything and just rolled through the use of technology like it was fed to them in their baby-formula. Oh you should know; before I “went to sleep”, I worked in the technology industry and was an “expert”. So, it just felt like I should know it all, but knew nothing.

Then I met a young teenage couple. Like me, they were homeless (I lived in a Ford Transit Connect van for 9 months. Then an RV for about 18 months; while I search for a place that met my needs). By this time, I’d been provided an iPad by the VA that had an app that turned my typing into a voice. An important consideration, as I still could not speak.

There came a day, when we were sitting in a fast-food restaurant going through apps and ads for housing possibilities; when I noticed them typing vigorously on their phones. This was the standard “thumb-typing” that everybody seemed to know how to do. I did not. Before the nap, I could type around 120 words per minute on a QWRTY keyboard . That was then, this was now; and I had two big problems: one, while I still had “opposable thumbs”, my thumbs were opposed to typing; two, I still did not have control over the left side of my body. Thus, I only had one working thumb, which was opposed to typing. Yet, here these two were, typing away like they were writing the Great American Novel. I ask, “who are you talking to?”

In response they looked at me as if I’d grown an extra head, and said, they were talking to each other. I couldn’t imagine it. They were sitting not more than a couple feet across from each other and talking by typing out text messages. They weren’t even looking at each other, but straight at their phones. As it turned out, they were having an argument. It seemed completely incongruous to me. I, who could not use my voice to communicate and wished I could. They, who could use their voice, didn’t; even though they were right there. In time, I came to understand that it might have been better that they texted each other, because when they did use their voice, it was followed up with fists. But that’s not the point of this story.

I cannot imagine what the heck happened while I was napping; but it is clear: the world went to hell in a handbasket. I blame the smartphone. Since that time, I’ve watched as people walked and texted (often crossing streets against traffic), obsessively tied with their noses to the phone. They appeared to be unable to be separated from their phones for even a minute, lest they get separation anxiety. Yet, that isn’t the worst. The worst is that I noticed they didn’t seem to be able to actually talk to each other anymore. Instead, they had taken to using this device as a barrier.

Then, as I rolled down the sidewalk (in my wheelchair), smiling as I acknowledged the other people. I soon started to notice they seemed uncomfortable. My first thought was that the wheelchair or my service dog was to blame. Since, I’ve come to understand, it was the ‘direct eye contact and acknowledgment’. People had lost the ability to look at each other. No longer did they look each other speaking truths that were vetted by the direct eye-to-eye contact between one another. Instead, they have built a wall around themselves that may only extend a foot, but is impenetrable. Like 350,000,000 little fortresses in a war of words texted, emailed, and posted. A war of self and expectation. “Personal space,” became NOT the physical distance between themselves and others. But instead, became the phrase that defined the distance that their words travel in the ether in order to arrive at the intended target. Meanwhile, the world passed one another upon the streets and roads of life, without ever acknowledging each other.

The New World Order is the video screen’s cocoon that separates us from the world. A travesty in of itself. Yet, it has also severed the bonds of honesty that once came from looking one another in the eye. With it, was lost the responsibility to one another. The smartphone has reduced our society to disembodied #HASHTAGS and MEMES, screen names and email addresses. Everyday, my antique iPhone 8 is “blown-up” with pictures I don’t want to see, offers I don’t want to participate in, and assertions that have no basis in truth in this universe (or any other I suspect).

Thus, I now busy myself with the daily task of “cleaning” my phone of things untoward, and lament. A friend recently told me, “why don’t you just ‘block them’.” As if that was a solution: don’t like something or somebody, just “block them”. This seems to me to be part of the problem. Is it any wonder then that we cannot discuss difficult subjects or find consensus anymore? Is it any wonder, we cannot agree on “facts” or universal “truths”. How can any of these cornerstones of social experience exist, when we each live in our “Own Private Idaho”; unshared and unexperienced by any others. Except maybe in ALL CAP SCREAMS.

PS. (for those that don’t remember ‘writing letters’: this means “Postscript”): Mr. jklmnop@some-email-service.com; NO THANK YOU, now stop sending messages.

Yours truly,

Copyright D. J. Adams, 2022. All rights reserved

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D. J. Adams is a nom de plume or pseudonym. I’ve been on this earth so long, the rocks call me grandpa. I am the founder, CEO, and run multiple corporations.

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D. J. Adams

D. J. Adams

D. J. Adams is a nom de plume or pseudonym. I’ve been on this earth so long, the rocks call me grandpa. I am the founder, CEO, and run multiple corporations.

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