(Dis) Engaged

This morning I was out for a jog on a long country road, a picturesque route with barns and farms along the Connecticut River. Smack in the middle of a straightaway I saw a woman speed walking in front of me.  As I approached her, I said “on your right.” Two seconds later, I passed, on the right and the woman jumped out of her skin. “You scared me,” she mouthed barely cracking a smile. It was then I noticed she had ear buds in.

How is someone supposed to warn someone who’s wearing ear buds anyway? 

An hour later I’m at a four way stop on Main Street in the town where I live. I watch a mother, head tilted slightly, pushing a toddler in her stroller with a second child walking by her side. The scene seems normal enough until I realize the reason her head is cocked to one side is she’s talking on the phone.

What possible conversation is so important that it needs to be had while crossing in traffic with two kids? And if it is so important why not stay on the side of the road, finish the conversation and then cross?

Two errands later on the same busy street, I sit idling, this time at a four way stop light. I look to my left to see a man on a motorcycle helmet-less, but that’s not the worst part, he’s texting. That’s right, texting while seconds from having to hit the gas and plunge into an intersection with cars and trucks and buses and me.

What is wrong with people?

I’m not saying I’ve never done it. Check texts at a stop light or take a phone call at an inopportune time...but I have this feeling that what used to be an exception reserved for a family member giving birth or “did we get the house?” is now simply status quo.

Every e-mail, text, tweet, every last thought, message, inclination is tended to moment by moment day after day. And nothing, not driving or walking or crossing the street will get in the way. 

I find it exhausting! Partly because I don’t understand it and partly because if every one else is engaged...well than maybe I should be too. 

What is the threshold for information overload? 

Ten years from now will families still talk at dinner or will everyone be texting each other in silence? Will workplace meetings be replaced by looking into a screen...oops, that one has already happened.

Lately I find myself feeling like the parents who once shuttered with disapproving shock watching Elvis gyrate his hips at screaming teenage girls.

“What is this world coming to?” they wondered.

“What is this world coming to?” I wonder now too.

Several hours later, with errands complete and the kids successfully tucked away with friends, my husband and I hop the 5:15 Metro North train headed for NYC for a Friday evening wedding. Within ten minutes of leaving New Haven, Rob is fast asleep. 

While he sleeps I make my way visually around the train. People-watching is one of my favorite past-times. I’ve been known to listen in on a conversation or two. 

But to my displeasure, on this night, the dozen people in my immediate space aren’t having any conversations. They hold empty stares, transfixed by their phones.

People watching is supposed to be a silent incognito act. My fellow passengers are clearly not playing along. I have the urge to yell: 

Where are you going? What is your story? Do you even have a story? Or are you waiting for your phone to tell you what time it is, who likes you and what tomorrow will bring? 

Instead I take out my own smarter than me phone. And engage myself in a game of Words with Friends. Using words I barely know with friends I cannot see.


  1. What's that? Sorry...didn't hear you, I was too busy reading your Tweets ; )
    Truthfully, although there are so many things I love about being 'in touch', I also think we are going too far too fast down the technology stream. I make it a point of regularly "unplugging" for purposeful chunks of time. Don't tell my family, but sometimes I wish for power outages. A board game in front of the wood stove; doesn't that sound dreamy??

  2. Holly, I enjoyed this post:) Here's an idea, one day a week- off the grid. Do you think you could do it? I am not sure if I can, but it would be fun to try. Just the other day, I almost did. A visit to Rhode Island by the ocean, enjoying family time. Alas on the ride home- yep, needed to get all charged up with the Smartphone.