Not long ago at Denny’s, I caught a scene that is thoroughly modern-day and yet already antiquated.
It was a family, mom and dad, three kids — maybe 11, 8 and 5 — all sitting at a table.
The kids were well-mannered, a bit rambunctious perhaps but such is the life of a child.
Both were on their smartphones — one texting, the other talking, rather oblivious to the outward view.
And so it is in this Era of the Amazing Smartphone.
It's an age when the technology is very smart, but sometimes you wonder about the people using it.
"I see distracted drivers on a daily basis,” says Brendan Heffner, police chief of Bloomington. “There are the 'more seasoned' drivers who don't necessarily want to embrace Bluetooth technology. So they continue to hold their phones to their ears while driving. Then there are the teens who don't want to miss a single text or any event on social media and can't seem to get enough technology while driving."
Both are against the law, of course.
And technology today?
It is growing so fast that even technology is noticing. Last month, the cable company Comcast released a new technology study, the result of which was quite humorous:
"More than half of parents today have been told by their children to put away their phones at dinner," it headlined.
• Two in 5 parents can’t remember the last time their family had a device-free meal, added the study.
• Forty-nine percent of millennial parents cannot recall the last time they broke bread with family without at least one device at the table.
• Roughly one out of every one person has by now occasionally mulled asking the phone-entrenched person across from them: "Do you mind if I strap your phone to my forehead so I can pretend you're looking at me when I talk?"
OK, I made that last "fact" up — but you get the point.
One of the most revered inventions of the last century, the smartphone is also one of the most controversial, if not downright annoying.
Visitors to the McLean County Law and Justice Center are no longer allowed to even bring their phones into the building, not only because of endless beeps, whirs and tones, but also because so many were trying to take pictures or shoot video in courtrooms.
“It is nice not to have cellphones in the courthouse,” says Associate Judge Brian Goldrick. “But that does not always mean that I don't hear someone's phone ringing in the middle of a hearing ... yes, I'm going to throw one of my court clerks under the bus."
The judge then adds: "Someone once told me that when an employee of The Pantagraph would go to my dad's (former Publisher John Goldrick) office to talk to him, my dad would push everything aside to show that he was listening. Very old school ... now people stay on their phones while you're having a face-to-face conversation ... and we call it multitasking!"
And there's people staring at their phone in restaurants.
And people on the phone while grocery shopping or milling about Target.
And people texting, continually.
And people who nearly walk into you on the street as they look at a screen, not you. "Everybody does it, and then everybody's irritated when somebody else does it," is how Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel put it in the paper the other day.
Police will tell you they now are the most popular video subjects on Earth, thanks to the smartphone. As one recently retired Bloomington officer puts it, "It's not rare to pull over a car for an obvious infraction … and that’s when you see all the vehicle's occupants taking video of you while you are just trying to do your job."
How integrated into our times has the smartphone become?
Between all his calls, texts and tweets every five minutes, you figure it surely must be an issue even inside the White House. Mr. Trump uses his phone so much, he must have to charge it every 15 minutes. His nightstand must undergo a 7.2 earthquake if he accidentally leaves it on “vibrate” at night. Just how many times must Melania intone, "Donald — could you please put down THAT phone?"
In fairness, there are a few signs that perhaps we’re getting better.
Fewer times now, suggest ministers and priests whom we asked while working on this piece, is a service or sermon interrupted by a ring, a ding, a ping, a ringtone, or a riff of AC-DC or Andy Griffith whistling.
At McDonald's, "Marie" — a longtime counter clerk — says most customers are off their phones now by the time they make an order.
“A couple times,” she says, “I have had to ask a customer to please come back up when they are off the phone and ready to do lunch business. But that’s about it.”
Of course, there always has been the irony that with each technological “advance” in our history — the car, the TV, the computer, etc. — there have developed problems that our “advances” create.
But the smartphone might be the new leader.
Call me if you disagree.
Or better yet, maybe not.
And if you're reading this on your smartphone while trying to make an order at McDonald's, uh ...