One hour after sunrise. The air temperature was hovering around 20° on this January morning, but the steam was rising in vails from the hot pools around us.
Strip down, (suit up), and jump in.
These are natural pools. A person has to get there early if you want to see the sunrise. The hike is several miles and a few thousand feet of elevation. Some of it is quite steep. But trust me, you want to see the sunrise. It’s a place so special that I won’t even mention it by name.
As my buddies and I sat within the natural confines of the largest pool, sulfurous water and loose gravel massaging the winter (and previous day’s libations) from our bones, we watched a curious thing:
A pack of young ladies, early to mid-twenties, arrived on the scene. They disrobed (not all the way) and began to avail themselves of the location. However, nary a bikini bottom became moistened with the hot waters therein.
Are you picturing this? They stood thigh deep in 103 degree water on a bone-chilling morning in Idaho, so they could take selfies. They took pictures of themselves. With a shallow pool of strangers all around them, they made no eye contact with anyone save their own reflections, duck face, fish gape… what-the-fuck-ever.
Then they left. They toweled their legs, dressed, and hiked away.
As a society, we’ve been watching this happen for decades, each phase taking us increasingly deeper. It’s all around us: the ever present connection to that ‘other world.’ It causes everything from ‘smartphone neck’, to death as the occasional selfie-seekers treads unwittingly backward off a cliff and into viral popularity. This other world has brought us harmless memes about Bernie and his mittens, and an attempted coup on the steps of our nation’s Capitol.
My fears, however, are for my children.
My boys are still young, not yet saturated in hormones or self-righteousness. That time is coming to an end and I fear that this ‘other world’ is waiting to snatch them up. I can feel it, scratching on the doors and peering through the windows. It wants my children. Sometimes I feel like I’m just trying to run out the clock, hoping my boys will develop enough fortitude and self-worth to survive when finally, inevitably, Bezos, Zuckerberg and all the rest take over for me. In the fight between a parent’s influence and Youtube, Youtube is going to win. It’s designed to win. Dude Perfect will become their spiritual guide, they can learn social interaction from Annoying Orange.
I grew up before all of this sprung from the earth like a bad infection. I’m 47, which means I knew what it was like to play outside until we had to call the game on account of darkness. I knew how to play with legos before they came with instructions. I had to listen to every minute of Casey Kasem’s top 40 for a chance to dub my favorite songs. (If you don’t know what dubbing is… Google it.) Pictures were something only adults took, telephones were anchored to the walls, and when we went on a road trip we looked out the window.
I’m not saying the ‘other world’ is all bad. I use the Internet every day as both a tool and a source of entertainment. But, it’s going off the rails. Just try to turn on a video within earshot of a child nowadays. They’ll instantly drop whatever they’re doing and crawl onto your chair to look over your shoulder. It could be a video about changing a carburetor and they’d watch it. If screens are this effective at galvanizing attention, what chance does an adolescent have when the experience becomes about them personally? What chance do any of us have?
I fear that future generations will not know the pleasures of random discovery, will not learn patience, will become wholly consumed by their myopic need for recognition, and will be unable to generate a memory without digital proof. I am horrified to see how easily we have caved to targeted algorithms and opinion masquerading as news. We are coping with these technologies like a Neanderthal rewiring your kitchen.
Maybe, we should all take a cool step back from that ‘other world’ (carefully looking behind us first), and spend a bit more time in this one.