“It was in the Detroit airport in the 1990s, heading for a southerly destination, that I first noticed it. A lot of smartly-dressed people talking as they walked. They look self-absorbed, intentionally so, it seemed. That’s when I decided I’d never own one of those things,” Pinkie says.
“You’ve kept your promise, after all this time?” I ask, taking just enough time to look up from my device, fingers momentarily paused.
Pinkie doesn’t answer, right away. Instead, she asks to see my ‘phone’ and, once I’ve complied, places it face down on the table, sips her water, and smiles.
“I know all about them, Jack,” she says.
I reach across the table, think better of it, and remain silent.
“It’s like this. My relationship to cell phones or whatever you call them these days – mobile devices? – is like my relationship to hockey. I don’t use cell phones and I don’t play hockey. But I know plenty about both. Pretty much everyone around me carries a phone, and how could you grow up in Canada without knowing something about hockey?”
“So, you picked them up like osmosis?”
“That’s right. And don’t even think about making another stab for this thing. See that fountain over there? That’s where it will go.”
I feel naked and vulnerable with my device in peril but realize Pinkie may be on to something. I pick up a couple of New York fries, dip them in ketchup, and glance with no small degree of envy at the people with their phones around me.
“I’ll make it easy for you, Jack,” says Pinkie
“The first thing I noticed with these things was their distraction value. You might have your fingers on the world but there’s another level of awareness that’s lost. It’s one of the first things I realized.”
“Like people walking in front of buses?”
“There’s that, yes. I’m thinking it’s more that people are just less aware of their surroundings in a general sense and have lost something in the process, like their attachment to place and relationship to those around them, friend and stranger alike. Everything, everyone is all viewed with through an artificial lens.”
Pinkie sees my confusion.
“Jack, I know these things are useful in certain respects but our reliance on them comes with a loss. It’s like walking in nature with one of these things in tow.”
“But Pinkie, even Ontario Parks is on board. You can walk their trails and use an app to get more information. It’s like having a field guide walking with you.”
Pinkie sighs, picks up my device, and hands it to me. “Fine, let this be your guide but can you trust what it tells you?”
“Sure, well, you need to go to more than one source and you need to be careful …”
“Let me get to my next point, Jack. I’ll start with a question: Is this the information age?”
I look down, decide to go with an on-line search for an appropriate response but Pinkie interrupts.
“Facts are getting in the way, Jack, facts that back opinion, or worse, facts that back self-interest. Confusion reigns. Truth has become a rare commodity.”
“But that’s the way it’s always been, hasn’t it, Pinkie?”
“My point exactly, Jack. My point, exactly.” ◊