At every turn, we read articles (ironically, usually on our phones) telling us how awful human interaction has become due to handheld devices. This isn’t new; my brother had a walkman perpetually running starting about 1990.
It seems, however, to have reached new levels that people can’t suffer through the five minutes it takes to get through a checkout line or sit on hold with customer service. The billions of dollars companies are using to run TV commercials are going to waste, because what do we do when a commercial comes on (that we cannot fast forward through)? We check Facebook. Now we know our friend in Phoenix is having grilled chicken and Nana’s potato salad (made from scratch of course….because everything is made from scratch on Facebook while children play blissfully on a sterilized floor) for dinner. I couldn’t tell you what three commercials played during the commercial break of This Is Us.
But I think what we are missing is something even bigger.
This morning, at 4 AM, my mother-in-law was generously driving me to the airport so my husband could milk Cocoa (our dairy goat). While driving the hour to the city, we were recounting terrible travel stories….because that’s what you do before a flight, right?
One particular nightmare trip she recounted had a silver lining I wasn’t expecting. She was telling me about a drive from Dayton, Ohio to St. Louis that she made when my husband and his younger brother were 6 and 4.
The trip there was riddled with missed meals, downpouring rain, and of course running out of gas – to the point that a greyhound bus ride with two small children for the return to Dayton felt like an upgrade.
As you can imagine, she was dutifully equipped with stories and snacks and songs for her preschoolers on the long bus ride….this was long before Netflix, which helped me survive my last flight with my little ones.
She told me that during one particularly favored book, she noticed that for a few rows ahead of her and a few rows behind her, the strangers on the bus were laughing along with the story! At the time, as a relatively new mom, she was mostly concerned with keeping her boys from annoying the other passengers…feeling the hot flush in her face when she saw the looks her way as she boarded the bus with preschoolers. She never expected to be entertaining the lot of them.
Flash forward over 30 years (gulp!) and she was recounting how something like that would rarely happen these days. Admittedly, even though we are limited-screen-time kinda people, I loaded my iPad with episodes of their favorite cartoons the last time I flew with my little ones. Just in case.
So what have we lost? The couple on the bus pregnant with their first baby watching a mom who is making it look like maybe it’s not so scary after all.
The man who learned a lesson in judgment because he was grumbling the moment he saw them…certain that those little brats were of course going to ruin his entire day and probably sit behind him and kick his seat and sneeze on him for 10 straight hours.
The grandma who doesn’t get to see her grandbabies very often because they live in California, and this was a nice bit of consolation for her. After all, Blueberries for Sal is their favorite too.
The 20 people within earshot who were gifted with a tiny moment of simple joy at a child’s laughter and the memories of stories being read to them before their own bedtime.
Putting down the phone and talking to the person behind you in line or next to you at the airport terminal is the start (and now I can address Sandy by name as I get off the plane to hear how her first flight ever was).
But I would press you to not passively wait for something amazing to happen when you put down your phone. Look at the people around you. Is there a mom helping her toddler get a drink at the fountain? Is there a husband putting a loving hand on his nervous wife’s head at takeoff because this is only the second time she’s ever flown? What about a TSA agent nearing the end of her shift who has clearly met with every disgruntled passenger in the greater Cleveland area? All I have to do is smile and make a joke rather than a grumble about my granola that triggered a bag search at 6am.
It took almost zero effort and brightened her moment. It lifted mine too.
Smile at the mom with the two toddlers at the drinking fountain…and ask if you can help. She’s not going to let you, but you can tell her you have five kids and it’ll get better. No really. You’ve got this.
Check on the person who’s never flown before when you get off the plane.
And for goodness sake, put down your phone and smile at the TSA agent. It’ll improve your day too.