At Starbucks the other day I sat slumped on "my" couch, reading. Directly in front of me, in two of the easy chairs angled toward each other, were a couple of young women--college age ... back home for spring break? Their body language and facial expressions told me their conversation was intimate, though I could not hear a thing they said (and, honestly, did not try to). Instead, off and on, my eyes drifted up from the page, floated off toward them ...
Soon, I noticed something else: Both young women held smart phones. Periodically, eyes lowered, thumbs danced, that universal smile appeared--the one I've seen rippling the faces of countless texters and Facebookies. Somehow, though, the actual colloquy continued while the virtual ones also flowed along--submarine currents in an ocean of conversation. Neither young woman seemed offended by the flickering attention of the other. Neither appeared to apologize. It was just ... normal.
Older generations have always been puzzled (or pissed) about the inscrutable behavior of the young. Elvis and transistor radios annoyed my parents. Our son's Atari passion for Pac-Man and Frogger frustrated me. I see our young grandsons' smart-phone Angry-Birding, and ... none of my business.
But with the new technologies come new protocols as well. Things that apparently seem perfectly all right to the users but flip the Annoyance switch in elders.
And it's not just technology. My parents' generation growled about the lengthening of hair, the growth of sideburns, moustaches, beards. My mother, 93, still looks with disdain at my Levis. (She tried to tell me once that they wouldn't serve me so dressed in the dining hall in her stages-of-care facility. I suppressed a smile, had a nice institutional lunch with her. No one said squat about my jeans.)
The writers I was reading--Mailer, Vonnegut, Heller, et al.--were writers my parents never read. The movies we saw in the sixties and seventies, ditto. They remained fans of Bob Hope and Jack Benny--did not think Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce were funny at all. ("Just crude.") And music? Forget it. For my parents, popular music stopped with Glenn Miller, though Pat Boone could be tolerable. Barely.
Later, our son was loving comedians I could never "get" (Jim Carrey), wearing weird clothes (remember Jams?), listening to music groups that all sounded the same to me, ...
But ... because I was a secondary school teacher most of my career, I made an effort to try to keep up. I listened to music, watched TV shows, went to movies, read books that I ordinarily never would have (even, lately, Twilight, Hunger Games). Subscribed to People and Entertainment Weekly. I often found that my knowledge--superficial as it was--formed a kind of rough walkway between my students and me. We could--sort of--speak the same language (mine was more of a pidgin), and maybe through that language I could induce them to visit worlds where other languages prevailed--the worlds of Elizabethan England, Puritan New England, and so on.
I think I find myself more amused and bemused than angered by the new technologies and the new social protocols that have emerged with them. Sure, my BP rises when someone in front of me in the Starbucks line is simultaneously placing an order and having a Bluetooth-assisted full-voice smart-phone conversation with someone somewhere else. But that's just the Old Man in me, the one who likes to rage, rage at the dying of the light blue dial telephone.