San Diego kids on cel phones go silent

Txt me! So I don't have to talk to you face2face.

“I couldn’t believe it,” says the veteran San Diego lifeguard. “A kid shouted, ‘Hey, look!’ And I saw two of them with their parents, and I suddenly realized, oh my God. On a day like today, when it was 80-some degrees outside — at Mission Bay! — that’s the first voice I’ve heard all day.”

It never used to be that way, says the lifeguard, Rod Messinger. “Gradually, it’s just gotten to the point where you don’t hear kids anymore. I mean, it’s just silent.”

And not just kids, Messinger says.

“You’ll hear skates going by, adults, using the boardwalk, on the bayside, riding their bicycles, or they’re running…of course they all have iPods on. They’re plugged in. Or, they’re talking on their cell phones. They’re not talking to each other, like, ‘Hey! Drink afterwards?’ You just hear…silence. And this whole scene was after school. There’s the sound of the jets taking off over Sunset Cliffs, and that’s it. Silent spring. Bizarre. Nobody goes to the beach and hangs out anymore. I don’t know where they go.”

Where have all the Flowers of Our Youth gone? Home to computers and Blackberries, every one. The age of Marshall McLuhan may actually be upon us. “The medium,” he famously said, “is the message.” And the message today funnels through the medium of cell phone and laptop data streams, whether it’s dating, dining, or texting in class about the teacher’s hair.

The Age of Disconnect, the New Inwardness, has arrived in San Diego. And here it has come, some say, to strain the ties that bind our society. In his landmark book Bowling Alone, author Robert Putnam warned that we’re already becoming disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, PTAs, and even bowling leagues. That was in 2000. Now, nearly a decade later, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and texting technology have come in like kudzu plants. They stand accused of kidnapping kids from their parents and from the real world around them.

For some, these technologies bust the barriers of distance and shyness. For others, they don’t make much difference at all. It depends on your take.

How are San Diegans coping in an age where Facebook has become real competition for face-to-face affection and attention? Is it more important than family? Here are interviews with five San Diego families dealing with competition from a seductive alternative universe.

THE MEDIA-SATURATED KID. The Hancock family (not their real name) are two working parents with two children. Their daughter Summer, 18, is studying math at college in Northern California. Their son Kevin, 15, lives at home and spends most of his out-of-school time on his computer. His communication with them is minimal, his hours in front of a screen, maximal.

Kevin Hancock, 15, freshman, ninth grade, is a bright, artistic 15-year-old.

Where do you spend most of your online time?

“On Facebook. I do spend a lot of time online. I come home from school around 4:30. I do homework till about 6:00. Then, pretty much nothing. Just computer. YouTube and Facebook, watch videos and write about life, kind of like blogging, but just between friends and family, people who I know from school, mainly. It’s easier to make friends this way. On Facebook my friends introduce me to their friends.”

So does this make you more antisocial outside in the world?

“Yes. You have more connection with people online. And, yes, it hinders conversation at the dinner table. For parents, the computer’s about work. For us, the computer’s about life, about entertainment, about everything.”

Does this create a shorter attention span?

“I get bored easily. I read books but not as much. I was going to read The Old Man and the Sea. It’s one Dad gave to me to read. But in the end I never really started it.”

Do you get out a lot?

“No. I’m mainly inside after school. Sporty kids and geeky kids pretty much keep to themselves. It’s a kind of civil war, but more and more kids are geeky, and they don’t call them nerds anymore. I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker.”

Does heavy texting and networking time online make you feel isolated from the real world?

“It does make you feel kinda disconnected. Not lonely, because you have all these [online] friends. I have 50–60 I talk to, not all here. I text with someone in Zimbabwe who I met online. Though not so much now. It was a chat room thing.”

What do you think is the effect on personality of seeing the world through a texter’s eyes?

“It makes you much more of a procrastinator, because [online] conversations never really end.”

Is there any hope for old people who want to get into the texting/

Facebook thing?

“I doubt if they’d want to.”

“If you ask me if I’m jealous of his computer, yeah, I am,” says Kevin’s dad Harold.

“I would love to have half the time that his computer gets [from] him. His life goes on, he’ll begin to realize I’m not just his dad but his friend. But [daughter] Summer isn’t that way. Chemistry is in the mix. It’s like Summer and I relate more to each other, just like [wife] Joanie and Kevin relate to each other. And now that Summer has gone, I’ve been a bull in a china shop trying to get Kevin to notice me, pay attention, do stuff with me.

“But I think he finds it very comfortable to be electronically plugged in, after school, whether it be his iPod, listening to music, or his laptop opened, or the desktop computer, or the television on, even on some Discovery Channel story he has no interest in. I asked him the other night, ‘What are you watching?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Why are you watching it?’ ‘It’s just…just there.’ And usually it’s all three: the iPod, the computer, and the TV. It’s interesting that his generation does that. My generation was into TV a lot. I remember once we were surveyed in college. They said, ‘Go home and be honest: tell us how many hours you watch TV, videos, VCRs. I was watching close to 40 hours’ TV. And that was scary. I was embarrassed to tell anybody. Today, kids are doing the same thing, but with other electronic means.

“Kevin goes to bed about 11:00, unless he’s really tired, and then, still, it’s an electronic thing. His computer’s open, he’s been playing games. I mean, they’re doing so much living through computers, who’s to say it’s a bad thing because the way the world’s going, he and his sister both are able to do so many things so rapidly, the multitasking in electronics. It’s frustrating. We’ll go on a computer site or a forum, and I’ll try to fill it out, and they’ll just take the keyboard away. I’m not computer-illiterate, but I’m just not as fast as they are.”

Do they worry that Kevin’s computer multitasking could cause ADHD — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?

“I think it’s too soon to tell. What they’re creating is a whole new way of living. We already know that kids today coming out of school aren’t expected to last three years at a job. They move on, rapidly. Whereas most of us strive to last about ten years. It is change. Evolutionary change.”

How would they know if Kevin was getting into weird stuff online?

“What I don’t know is what he does on there when he’s talking. His best friend’s parents monitor their son’s text, incoming and outgoing, his cell phone calls, emails, and websites that he visits on his computer. They have some kind of spy apparatus, and he knows. Kevin came to me one day and told me. And I said, ‘What do you think about that? Do you think that we should vet you?’ And he said, ‘Oh, no. I’d hate that.’ And I said, ‘Honesty is the way that you avoid that.’ But the truth is that every parent has to deal with this. How much do you [spy on them]?”

Don’t you ever want to drag him out into the sunshine, into the real world outside?

Joanie, Harold’s wife: “When I was young, my parents said, ‘Out. Out!’ You didn’t stay in the house. And you only came in when they called you for dinner. And in the summertime when they called you for bed. This was Canada. It was, like, ‘Please, can we come in, we’re frozen!’ And it was ‘No. Stay out there and play. Play!’ That’s the way it really was. We played with our friends. We imagined things. We lived in row houses, and we all shared the same back yard, a big square, and we just played and we talked. We pretended we had horses, we pretended we were princesses.”

“I had an idyllic childhood,” says Harold. “We lived in San Bernardino in one of the valleys. We went to Big Bear every holiday, tobogganing, ice-skating. We had horses. We’d play cowboys and Indians. I grew up with livestock, and it was physical and full of smells and people and nature. I was in the 4H club and raised livestock, and we’d get the blue ribbon. Then my dad would butcher them and we’d have steaks all winter. I rode my horse to school for a couple of years. It was way different than Kevin’s electronic-proxy world. On the other hand, I was terribly lonely. I was an only child, and sickly.”

Are there things your kids learn from you, rather than the internet?

“Just like every loving parent, we try hard to give our kids exposure to the right things: to truth, to communication, to love, to faith…

but there comes a point where they just throw up the wall. Maybe they’re still listening, so we keep saying it. But they don’t act like they’re listening. So, I don’t want it to sound like we completely condone the digital experience in place of other life experiences, like being outdoors.”

Will Kevin share his electronic social world with you?

“I’ll sit down next to him and try to look at what he’s doing, and he’ll click his space bar or something.”

But when does he have time for you?

“Indeed. You’ve got to figure, there’s so much time in the day, and you add up the number of minutes that he spends talking to his mother and talking to his father, petting the cat, eating, sleeping, and on the computer. Who’s going to win that? The computer wins.”

Will you ask Kevin to do, for example, kitchen chores?

“Sure. If he hears you, he’ll come and do it on the third time. But he usually has [earphones] on. Yes, he’ll do that stuff if you ask him to. But does he see it? No. The other day I had to yell across the street in the morning when he was going to school. I said, ‘Come back. There are nine lights and a TV on down here. Turn them off.’ ”

But what does a father teach his son?

“We did have a kind of a physical experience. We went skiing last year. He had never skied before. So we took him and his sister. And his sister right away took her skis off and went back to the condo and had Ovaltine with Mom, where Kevin and I — I just said, ‘Come on, I’m going to enroll you in a lesson.’ And Kevin says, ‘I really don’t want to do that, Dad.’ And then he said, ‘Can’t you just teach me?’

“And I have to tell you, that was kind of an emotional moment. My first thought was, ‘Gosh. He actually needs me.’ He really wanted me to do a one-on-one. How neat is that? And then my second thought was, ‘Oh, God, do I remember how to ski?’ Because it had been years.

“So we went to the bunny slope and spent about a half-hour. I gave him some lessons, stem-christies, weighting the downhill ski, and basically turning to stop, and look for the idiot coming down at 90 mph before you cross [a slope]. And then right away, like a half-hour in, he asked, ‘Can I go up the mountain?’ And I thought, ‘Oh, God, Kevin’s going to break his legs; Joanie’s going to be pissed.’ So we went up the ski lift, and that’s how it started. And before the half-day was gone, he was on some pretty serious runs. It was just amazing for me to watch him. The whole experience was great. He asked me to help. And he listened to what I had to say. That was cool. He wants to do it again.”

But don’t you wish you knew more about what he does?

“Yes. I understand why his friend’s parents put some electronic spy eyeball on all his stuff. But I also think that that’s liable to push him. He’s probably finding elaborate ways around it. His mother and I texted recently, decided we’d get together for coffee, share war stories. Because the boys do spend all their free time together. I mean, at some point you have to honor that he’s an individual person, and yet you don’t want to just throw out the window the fact that you’re still the parent, that you’re still responsible for making sure that that kid has all the tools that he/she needs to face the world. It’s a screwed-up place, and I’m scared to death all the time.”

So, has the internet largely stolen your role as dad?

“Well, I tried to talk to him about masturbation the other day. Figured it was time. I tried to ease into it with a joke. ‘Hey, so choked a monkey lately?’ Three different references to it. He was definitely shaking his head. I said, ‘It’s something we all have to do. Go through. My father never really talked to me about it. I learned about it in a backwoods way, through friends and jokes. So I thought we’d just talk about it.’ And I was talking to him about rubbers, and masturbation, and respecting women.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Dad. Never, ever talk to me about that again.’

“No. He knows about that already. He can go to Wikipedia and look up masturbation.”

THE LIBRARIAN. Katherine Higgins works for the City library system. Her name has been changed to protect her from a city bureaucracy that fiercely protects its information flow. But libraries, Higgins says, have been among the first to feel the effects of the Facebook revolution.

“MySpace and computers have changed how people react to each other. It’s very weird. At places like the Logan Heights library, I see how kids in a room don’t interact with each other. They’re interacting with the computer and only the computer. [After school] there’s literally a whole library full of kids, and they’re just not socializing with each other. I see a lot of kids who sit there and wait their turn, not talking to anybody, and then they get on the computer [for 30 minutes each], and then they leave.

“Back in the day, when I was a kid, you went in the library and you talked to each other, and you did homework together. But now, they’re like strangers, waiting for their turn to go on the computer. But they’re not going online to look up Wikipedia for homework: 99 percent are going on to look up MySpace. A distant second is email, or they’re looking at stuff on YouTube — and then they’re doing homework, sometimes.”

So what are they doing on MySpace?

“I’m not cool enough to tell. They don’t talk to me. But I also see the split-attention fallout from this ‘texter’ generation among my younger employees. They’re in their late teens to early 20s, and that’s what they do all the time. Text. It’s hard to get them off their cell phones to do work. They’re texting or they’re on MySpace. While you’re talking to them, something might vibrate. They’re always on their little machines while they’re working, and there’s no policy about that in the city, and there probably should be. I have one employee, and I try to tell him that the human brain cannot completely focus on two things at the same time. And he always disagrees. He texts while driving, talks while driving, he’s always doing two things. He acts like he has ADD all the time. Because I really don’t think the brain’s built that way.

“In fact, this one kid found out his baby was born — on MySpace. How terrible is that? This is what our lives are coming to. He had an out-of-wedlock baby with a girl who moved out of town, and then, when the baby was born, people texted him and sent him messages on MySpace. And that’s when he saw the pictures of his child for the first time. The long-term effects of this phenomenon are not known, but I think there’ll be repercussions. I think it will play out in a whole bunch of weird ways that nobody can think about now. It’s the technology causing it. It’s good that we have computers because we do need them, and many people, say, in Logan Heights, are too poor to have them at home. But computers are also why kids aren’t reading anymore. I think that’s no coincidence. People in poor communities don’t read. They do read in La Jolla. At least the adults do. We do have a summer reading program [for kids] in Logan Heights with incentives. The incentives are…iPods.

“But it’s not just kids who use Logan Heights library. We have work-furlough-program people [prisoners confined at night but released to work during the day]. Then we have people who live in Logan Heights and raise their family there — they’re usually Hispanic — then we have a few white families moving in, trying to gentrify the place. And then we’ve got some crisis-center people across the street, some Navy people down the street. And even these adults come just to use the computer. MySpace, job search, email. But just like with the kids, they don’t talk — to each other. Though, a lot talk to my staff, about the weather, politics, just for a bit of company. But this is not a place where they go to mingle.

“So the library’s role is changing. I wish people would come to the library to read. There’s never anybody in the book rows. But if we didn’t have the computers, we’d probably have been shut down a long time ago. I think that’s the direction it’s going. Downloadable information, downloadable books, movies, podcasts, digital stuff, databases, good for homework and research. There’ll still be that. But books? Not where I’m working.”

THE RESISTANCE MOVEMENT: Steve and Elizabeth Wampler have decided that they’re going “back to the future” with their two kids, Charlotte, 9, and Joseph, 8. They have only bare-bones TV and computers in the house. They’re determined to raise the kids through reading. On this night the kids have a big reading assignment. We’re sitting on a well-trampled front lawn.

CHARLOTTE: We’re reading tonight for 2H hours. We have a reading program in school, and it’s like a class competition. It lasts for five weeks. I’ll probably read The Sisters Grimm.

JOSEPH: Each week we have to read about a special theme. This week is humor. Last week was adventure. The last book I read was Henry Huggins.

ELIZABETH: Every night they want to read for 2H hours. So they’re going to be in bed by 6:00 and reading until 8:30. This is a five-week program to really get the kids reading in school. And they do it every year, and it’s fantastic. They really take it seriously. They love it.

So what started Elizabeth and Steve on their crusade?

ELIZABETH: I came from a great family who sent me outside to play. They wanted to get me the heck out of the house because they thought that was the healthiest way to raise kids. Not zoning out. Make your own fun. And if you’re bored, fix it. Dad was a career Marine Corps officer. Mom was a mom. We were very, very involved in sports. It was just a big part of our life. My parents always signed us up for everything. I played soccer. I didn’t think their approach was so great at the time. I wanted to watch more TV. But they wanted us to use our imagination and go play.

STEVE: I think that children today are zombies to the TV. It turns the brain to mush, and it doesn’t permit them to use their imagination. My family limited TV for us kids, too. It made me enjoy the outside.

ELIZABETH: When it came to me having kids, I thought that the best thing I could do, in terms of technology, was just not let them fill their life out with TV and computers. Because there’s a lot of materialism that goes with it. It felt kind of junky to me. Primarily, it was this junk information versus imagination, and how was I best going to raise them to grow their brains? I want them to have old-fashioned conversations with people, and lots of them. I’ve seen one girl who we care about a lot, she’s a doll, and she’s still socially very terrific, but at Christmastime she got a phone with texting capability, and it is constant. I’ve seen a change. I’ve seen people at restaurants, two people together, either texting or on the cell phone. I think there’s a social rudeness about it. I have a suspicion that it cuts down socialization.

Do other parents think you’ve gone too far?

ELIZABETH: Probably. Yes. It’s not the most pleasant feeling. You want to fit in. But our kids are pretty well adjusted and stable, and I don’t think they show any signs of weirdness. You have a lot more time [to impart values] when you’re sitting around a table at dinner, and we are fortunate because we get to have breakfast together too. We talk to our kids, we don’t read the paper while we’re having breakfast. We chat. We plan the day, we talk about the day, we complain, we laugh, we argue. We socialize! Because they’re only going to be in our house for about 18 or 19 years. I don’t want to waste a second of it. And if they complain about playing outside or missing TV, I’m just like my parents: “Too bad, so sad.” I don’t want my kids to be narrow and boring. I’ve taken them to Paris, London. We go to the library once a month and get out ten books. Reading is like watching TV, but with an active brain.

By the time we finish talking, it’s dark. Inside the 1927 stucco bungalow, the kids are already in bed, reading for their 2H hour marathon. Silence reigns. The only distraction comes from the cicadas, and the frogs who love to munch on them for supper, starting their nightly serenade from Steve’s elaborate pond system out back.

The Bruyere family of five is also trying to shake the TV/texting habit. But it’s no easy task when two of the three kids are already hooked. One thing they have going for them: the discipline and commitment of Hispanic family traditions.

Blanca, the mother, tries to balance the kids’ need to be up to scratch with their classmates while also keeping family life alive. That part, she thinks, is not going so well. She sits at the dining table after dinner with TJ, her oldest son, who is 15, Alexandra — Allee — 12, and family friend Camilla, 9. For Blanca, it’s a question of openness and focus on scholastics, and discipline. And with her husband away working long hours most evenings, the job falls mostly on her shoulders.

BLANCA: There is not so much conversation around the house these days. I see it with my kids. They’re texting a lot. They each have a phone. We’re thinking about changing those rules. You want to have conversation, and they’re constantly pushing on their buttons with their friends, and the way we grew up [in Mexico] was very different. We didn’t have all that, so we spent more time outside. We would communicate better with our parents because we didn’t have that outlet. I just think they waste too much time with this back and forth. “Yes.” “No.” “What are you doing?” “Oh, nothing new. My homework.” “What are you going to do later?” “Call me.” They don’t really talk on the phone anymore. It’s just texting back and forth.

ALLEE: Yeah. I text a lot. I text during dinner sometimes, and during homework. So my parents get mad at me. It’s fun because you’re just calling and calling. Apparently parents disagree.

TJ: And the thing about texting is that you’re more comfortable speaking about other things than you would on the phone or face-to-face. Sometimes, a little too much. So, then you meet face-to-face after all that…. It can be embarrassing.

BLANCA: You don’t know what to say when you actually get to talk to the person. You don’t know what to think. You’re so used to typing.

CAMILLA: I don’t have a phone.

ALLEE: She borrows mine and talks to my friends.

So why not just talk in person?

CAMILLA: It’s funner to text.

TJ: She wants to be like her sister and kind of cool. Ride the new thing.

BLANCA: I think it doesn’t promote anything good at all, because kids can send [text] very bad [cruel] messages over the phone. And because they’re not face-to-face, they think, “Well, I’m not really saying it.” So, I think it has a lot of potential to hurt kids. That’s where I’m coming from with my daughter. I got her a phone to be able to know where she is. If she needs me, she can call me. But the texting has gotten a little bit out of control. They don’t think it’s real. It’s the same thing when they’re having chats on the computer. They’re not seeing each other, so it’s easier to hurt somebody.

I always cook them dinner. My husband doesn’t come home till later, but I make sure they have a meal. So, I serve the three of them, and I’m talking to them. For sure, the weekends, we have, like, two or three meals a day together because that’s the only time I can have my husband.

Have the electronics separated everyone out into their own private worlds at night after homework?

TJ: I get back home about 1:30 because I start an early class, at 7:00 a.m. And a lot of my friends aren’t out yet. So, I’ll watch a little TV, hang out, and then if I have a sports schedule, I’ll go practice, come home, do homework, then eat dinner 5:30–6:00. Later, if I have time, I’ll watch TV with my dad. Sometimes I’ll go into my room with my computer and my music and my phone and do my homework at the same time, so I guess it’s partially true.

BLANCA: It is partially true. For instance, TJ has a little bit more [latitude] to watch TV. The girls can’t watch TV during the week because they get glued to it. They can’t watch only ten minutes. You can be talking to them, and they won’t even listen to what you’re saying. They’re always inside doing something that doesn’t involve exercise. Even though they do sports. And with texting, they don’t want you to see what they’re texting. But I told Allee, I want to see a text. You have to show it to me. She needs to know that those are the conditions.

There should be nothing that they hide from their parents, until a certain age, when they are paying for themselves and they’re living on their own. But while they’re in our house, we shouldn’t even have to ask. You know. “Let me see your phone, and do not delete them because I want to see everything that’s written.” And it’s not because I don’t trust her. It’s because there are a lot of mean people out there who can say things to her that can really damage a kid.

Is there still real communication between parents and kids?

BLANCA: Yes. There is a lot of that going on. I was privileged: I didn’t have to work when they were little. And my present work schedule is very easy. When they’re home, I’m home. So I am able to know where they’re at, what they’re doing. And you know, I think they pretty much have harder curfews than all their friends.

ALLEE: A lot of my friends have much more privileges than I do. I have a [set] bedtime during the weekend. My friends will be telling me, “Oh, I went to bed at ten.” “I didn’t go to bed till 2:00.” And I have an 8:30 bedtime. I’m not allowed to have sleepovers unless it’s a special occasion. My friends watch more TV than I do. I wish I could watch as much as they do. But I understand Mom. We get too attached to the TV, and then when she tells us to get off, we never get off.

BLANCA: This is so different growing up than the childhood I had in Cuernavaca, Mexico. It was privileged, compared to many. My grandfather was the governor of the state. We were very close to all our family, cousins, uncles, aunts, so definitely every Sunday we had meals, at my grandfather’s and grandmother’s house, and all my cousins would go there. We didn’t have any [sophisticated electronics, texting phones, and so on]. We had TV but were always playing outside. We swam a lot because we had a pool. We played soccer. We played different Mexican games that were called quemados, which are when you are tagging people.

But here I tend to be more conservative than my friends. What TV the kids watch, and the texting and the computer. It’s better not to have those avenues, as much as they can be useful.

ALLEE: I always want to be with my family. I have friends who spend less than 50 percent of their time with their family.

TJ: With my kids, I think I’d go the same way my parents have with us because now that I’m older I see how some of the kids that I knew before turned out. And a lot of the things that they could do that I couldn’t do, like having video games as a young child, have led some of the kids to make bad decisions. Not necessarily because of video games but more because being isolated and not maybe having those social skills when they grow older. Or getting into the wrong things because they don’t have a “natural high,” as they tell us with sport. So they have to go and find a different way, like alcohol or drugs. I think a lot of those kids have too much freedom. And the parents aren’t on top of it as much. They can go out and do things without their parents knowing. So I guess it is a lack of connection with the family. I enjoy our family get-togethers. It’s fun. We laugh a lot.

BLANCA: The kids probably find me strict, but my parents were stricter. Oh, yes. Much more.

THE COMPROMISE: Mary and Howard Frese run Clayton’s traditional coffee shop in Coronado. They have three children, aged 5 through 12. Unwillingly, they’re giving them cell phones — with strings.

MARY: I think the cell phone and texting has changed kids. I’m aware of the lack of intimacy between children now, in the way that they text each other. That’s one of the main reasons Jake is not allowed to text. The biggest thing for me is I want him to speak to people. I want him to feel engaged with the person. I think that phones in general are a great distraction. Jake’s 12. We got him his first phone when he was 10, so he could take steps toward independence — and be able to check in. Then the girls started to call and started texting about a year ago, and I think he was being polite and responding. And when I got wind of it and realized he was doing it, my biggest concern was: if you’re going to have a conversation with a person, speak to them in person or on the phone. At least you have a way to contact him. Though I’m worried that even though there’s a record of his calls, he can go in and delete it. That’s another reason I didn’t allow internet capability on his phone or the texting.

HOWARD: I know it’s a necessity today, but people alienate themselves, from neighbors, friends, everybody. You’d think they’d be communicating more with more means of communication. But for some reason, it’s very impersonal. I don’t know how to explain.

MARY: It certainly makes more people accessible to you. I handle everything at work, and I use the phone to find suppliers. And I don’t have to look things up in the phone book. There is more communication, but it’s not intimate communication.

HOWARD: And, let’s face it: the world was going just fine before this other thing came along. People talk at each other, not to each other. I just don’t believe in all this stuff. I’m sure it’s progress. But I’ll tell you the honest truth. I’ve never emailed somebody. I use the computer for my stocks. But I have zero interest in it. Growing up before all this was just better. Most families ate together, watched The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night, good, bad, or indifferent. They didn’t have to have the new iPhone, or the new game, or the faster computer.

But, come on, isn’t this all just nostalgia by old fogies for the time-gilded “simpler days”? Maybe, but leave the last word to lifeguard Rod Messinger.

“You know what I was thinking today, driving home from the boat?” he says. “Remember how having coffee in your car used to be a big attraction, and you’d spill it. People couldn’t drive because they were drinking their darned coffee.

“Then they had muffins. So it was coffee and muffins.

“Then it was cell phones. Coffee, muffins, cell phone…

“Then it was texting. Coffee, muffins, cell phone, texting…

“Then GPS. Coffee, muffins, cell phone, texting, GPS…

“Then iPods…I’m not exaggerating, man. I looked over and this person was going 40 mph in the fast lane, and I swear to God they were eating something, they had the coffee, it looked like they were texting, they had an iPod, they had GPS screens on. I thought, Oh, my God. And now television! They have LCD screens on the backs of their visors. Somebody needs to put the brakes on this.”

Reader poll

How often do you text?

  • I don't! 30%
  • Only when it makes more sense than emailing or calling. 51%
  • Every chance I get. It's my favorite form of communication! 19%

130 total votes.

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Great read! And an interesting random selection of interviewees - I struggle to get over my own technophobia, but I still prefer pencils over Photoshop, vinyl over digital, I've never used a DVR or TiVo, owned a cell phone, touched anyone's Blackberry, nor do I text, twitter or tweet (tho I once tawt I taw a putty tat...). Heck, I'd still be using beta videos, Poloroid cameras, and rotary phones, if not forced into alternatives. These tech savvy kids and the robotic future they portend both impress and frighten me ---

"Nobody goes to the beach and hangs out anymore" Because they can't drink at the beach and watch the half naked people walk by!!! Duh!!!

Great article! It has to be written. I loved growing up in the 70s without all these distractions. I loved that I am a good researcher because we have an ancient library at University of Santo Tomas in Manila, and I had to use those long moving ladders to get to some dusty books. Not being sarcastic. The long way of doing and finding out things gave my generation the virtues of patience, industry, focus and critical thinking. But I am no technophobe either. I was on it as soon as the first PC became commercial. I am relieved that when I mess up what I'm typing, I don't have to start over or use a whiteout. I don't think the problem is the internet or technology, but how we use it. People just needs to learn BALANCE. I agree FACEBOOK (FB) is addicting, but it has helped me keep connected with my friends and family who are scattered throughout the globe. In one place we can keep in touch. I am in my kids' FB Friends so it became a good way of starting discussions. We have computer desks near each other and we actually discuss things we post or see posted from each others' friends. I also don't check FB everyday even if I wanted to. The key is balance. As in anything with life. Thanks for this article though. It is well written.

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