Illustration by Brendan Leach

I Hate the Future

This essay is excerpted from the debut book of photos and interviews Meet the Regulars: People of Brooklyn and the Places They Love from Skyhorse Publishing

I hate the future. We’re already living in it, so that’s how I can be sure that I hate it. And when I say the “future,” I’m being sarcastic. I’m referring to our present- day world of texting and tweeting — all these supposedly amazing technological advances that were meant to make our lives better.

Let me say up front that I know how addictive the screens of our lives can be. I’m hooked as much as anyone else is. But I make an active effort to limit my time on the sauce. I even purposely leave my phone behind when I leave home (sometimes, not all the time; I’m not a monster). Look, I’m old enough to have seen how technology has changed our behavior, and I just don’t like it. I’ve always appreciated deep conversations and true connections. I loved the early days of long-form email messages. I even liked writing letters by hand and sending them in the mail sometimes. (Note to younger readers: some people actually did this.) I’m embarrassed to admit all this because it makes me sound too soft and sensitive. But I’m so disappointed in how we communicate today. Meeting the regulars made me miss the way things were even more. It also made me realize how much respect I have for them.

As I’ve spent time interviewing so many regulars at their favorite bars, restaurants, and shops in Brooklyn, I’ve noticed that they crave human contact. By simply doing what they do — regularly going to their favorite hangout — they seek human connection. And, man, I really like that. Maybe we can take a nod from them and get off the phone for a minute. Perhaps we can just quit Instagramming for a sec and enjoy our bangin’ breakfast burritos. Would it kill us to use our brains to remember that one guy’s name from that very special episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air instead of Googling it while we’re just trying to get drunk on these grapefruit margaritas?

I think most of the regulars find a way to respect a certain social contract: to acknowledge and enjoy that we’re all here to have some kind of exchange, even if it’s the kind where you don’t talk to anybody but you still find yourself in the same place at the same time intentionally performing the art of just being here. For those who don’t get it, look, interviewing these people who make a point of being a regular forces me to pay attention to nothing but the human being I talk to for an hour. A whole hour! With a stranger, no less! And that can be no less than profound. I hear their voice. I see the expressions on their face. I feel the rhythm of the room and react to it while the regular feeds off that energy, too.

I see us all staring at our screens in social situations and escaping online when we’re in public, and it feels so . . . sad.

I lived my entire life through high school offline. And you know what? I liked life before the Internet. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely profited from our brave new digital world. My first salaried job was as a writer at a digital agency creating websites for big brands. And since then, I’ve been able to pull in good money with that trade. The thing is, to me, as the Internet grew, things only got worse. Despite mobile phones, social media, and all these “cool” gadgets, “killer apps,” and ways to “connect,” I’ve felt more disconnected and more annoyed. I liked talking on the phone. I can communicate so much faster with one quick call than with a barrage of tiny texts and hilarious poop emojis. Please. Just talk to me IRL.

I know I sound like an old crank. But I see us all staring at our screens in social situations and escaping online when we’re in public, and it feels so . . . sad. I’ve also seen how the regulars experience this undeniably uplifting feeling that arises from even the slightest gestures in honest-to-gosh real life: the bartender flashing you a quick smile when you take your usual seat at the bar; the saleslady telling you that dress is totally your style as you flip through the racks; the dude behind the counter letting you skip the line because he’s already got your daily single-origin, pour-over, golden calf’s milk latte ready (made specially just for you, you weirdo). That warm feeling is the stuff of life.

Of course the regulars will reach for their iPhones and iPads, too. At this point, we all do. (Though I still bring a book with me on the subway. What can I say? I like to read on the page rather than the screen.) But the regulars also know how and when to put those modern marvels aside and satisfy an urge we all have — to just have a simple conversation. Sure, twenty comments on your latest post can make you feel famous. Getting that retweet from that Internet celeb can blow your mind. But you know that feeling is fleeting as the dopamine in your head dissipates and your zombie brain craves more. You have to admit those stats of followers and likes are just about as real as the digital profile on Tinder that you carefully manicured to make you look so damn fine. The virtual world ain’t real, dude; it’s virtual.

Meanwhile, that simple, primitive bond you could have made over time by disconnecting digitally and becoming a regular at your local joint is more reliable and more real than anything the tech gods and baby-faced startup CEOs are delivering — even Pokémon Go; quit with the baby games fer chrissakes, you’re an adult. I promise you: Just sitting with a buddy, making eye contact, and, y’know, talking is so much more rewarding than spilling your guts to your friend as they scan their Facebook timeline or kill it on Candy Crush. I doubt many regulars hate the “future” like I do. But I’ve seen they understand that when life feels distant or unreal, a genuine connection in a real physical space, however small, grounds them. It’s something real that’s there for them when they need it.

I get that this is a losing battle. Like I said, I’m a digital addict like everybody else today. I just miss the old days when people would talk and pay attention. But, you can’t stop time. You can’t stop “progress.” Still, I’ve learned from the regulars what life is really about. And if you don’t feel me, well, it’s your life and your loss. I give in to you giving up. Or, in a way that fans of the “future” might appreciate: ̄\_(ツ)_/ ̄