Editor’s note: The following piece appears in The Evening Sun, Nov. 21, 2014:
I looked around my gate for departure at O’Hare Airport. I had a layover, a long one, so I decided to people watch.
The gate seating capacity was nearly full – passengers were eagerly (anxiously?) waiting to board the next outbound flight.
I stood near the window looking out toward planes that were refueling or receiving maintenance, and witnessed airport employees performing the routine duties of loading and unloading luggage.
Nearest to me were two ladies in a four-seat row. All four seats were covered with the unmanned ones covered with paperwork, carry-on bags, and sundries. I didn’t want to intrude on personal space; both ladies were on their cell phones.
In the aisle across from the two ladies, three of four seats were taken. That open seat, though, was not really open. A man had his carry-on bag assuming the role of sidekick, while he browsed through web pages on his tablet.
Eventually, I claimed a seat to settle in for the long haul. Did I mention my layover was outrageously long?
The gate in which I parked my caboose had 63 available seats, and that included seven that were set aside for the handicapped or disabled.
At least half of the seats were occupied by real flesh, and at least half of the open seats were accounted for by baggage.
I said at the top of this article that the gate was nearly full. It wasn’t – with people – but individuals tend to expand their territory when faced with the possibility of sitting elbow-to-elbow with another unfamiliar traveler.
Those of us who regularly fly in coach are quite familiar with the meager confines of airplane seating. Who wants to exacerbate their claustrophobia in the airport terminal?
At this point, my cell phone remained in my pocket, and my book was still in my carry-on bag. I gazed at people to my left and right, and all the way down to the other end of my gate area. Nearly every person was looking down.
The people were not rechecking their boarding pass information or reading a book. The majority was absorbed in hand-held technology – either a phone, laptop computer or tablet.
There were young travelers, middle-aged business types, and ladies and gents now clearly enjoying their retirement age. All of the demographics were covered, yet all were united as slaves to technology.
The conformity and uniformity, regardless of a person’s age, gender or creed was almost drone like. And I didn’t like it.
I have long assumed that the majority of American adults own some sort of mobile device, and that device is on their person or in close proximity all day, every day.
If you’re thinking that perhaps I fall into the minority of holdouts spurning 21st-century technology, you would be wrong.
My mobile phone serves many practical uses, and has become integral to my day – personally and professionally.
I can communicate by phone call or text message nearly anytime, anywhere, to just about anyone. Those “anyones” likely have their cell phones in hand – or pocket – and maybe they’ll take my call or respond to my text message.
My cell phone remained in my pocket as I was writing this piece (yes, actually hand writing on real paper). Why not use my laptop? Easy answer: I didn’t pack my laptop for my trip out west, and it sat idle for over a week at my home in Norwich.
Seems pretty old-school, huh? Using a pen and paper to jot down thoughts, then have to transcribe them on my computer?
Redundant? Indeed. But my laptop is never long for a workout.
The 30 to 35 passengers would eventually board for a 75-minute flight from Chicago to Cleveland. Just a handful of the nearly three-dozen men and women were free of any technology. So why the incessant attention paid toward their mobile device or computer?
Because they can.
Anyone over the age of 35 grew up learning how to become self-sufficient in passing free time. There was always television, but for us country folk, cable was not a given. Sometimes, the only thing on TV was a Gilligan’s Island or I Dream of Jeannie rerun. There is only so many times you can watch the same rerun, so you had to figure out something else to do.
A couple of years before I graduated from high school, video games were in their ramp-up period, but had not consumed many youthful minds. Really, how much Donkey Kong, Pac Man or Space Invaders can you stand in a day?
There was diversity to our days, and much of our time was connecting – in person – with friends. For us boys, if there was ever a phone call, it was a quickie to confirm a rendezvous amongst our clique.
For me, my coterie assembled regularly for sports games. In the fall and early winter, we played football. When the weather broke, it was baseball or softball.
Some of my other friends would occasionally break things up with street hockey battles.
There were few rules in place, and the only infractions called were the blatantly obvious resulting in the spilling of blood or maybe some sort of broken bone. (Just kidding on the latter.)
Word-of-mouth in school served as our group text message. We’d inform the parental units of where and when we were playing, gave a time we would be home, and that was enough.
Too much information relinquished to our folks would draw the ire and repudiation of friends. Think dodgeball – one against ten!
For those of our generation, there was, for good or bad, freedom based on the trust of our respective parents. Now, most of our generation supplies our children with a mobile phone so we can have access to our progeny at any time.
Are kids today that less trustworthy? Is there an increased criminal element out there? Probably not, but technology, in this case, has allowed to more readily identify that criminal element.
The bottom line, though, is that we barely give our kids a chance to truly earn our trust.
George Orwell wrote about the future in “1984,” and a recurring mantra was “big brother is watching you.” In 2014, big mother and father are watching you.
It’s nearly 90 minutes after I started writing this treatise, and I still haven’t touched my cell phone. A whole hour and half of prime idle time in which I didn’t fiddle with any technology or watch any of the many televisions stationed in our gate area.
The Cleveland crew has long departed, and I looked around at the new faces occupying the seats in my gate. Nothing has changed as most are staring blankly at their technology trying to pass the time.
I don’t have to worry about making eye contact with anyone.