Look, it's not that I hate cell phones, but sometimes you just wish you could make eye-contact with someone again - when you go for a walk, when you're out for breakfast, when you're at the supermarket. You just get so weary of people who seem to be more interested in staring at their hands than in taking the occasional glance at the world around them.
And I know, I know - I sound like an old guy grumbling. A guy who's out of touch with the way the world is. But still, I wonder: Do people really prefer the world that they look at through a screen, or the real one, out here?
Case in point: My grandson.
My grandson used to love spending every Saturday with me; his father would drop him off and we'd work in the yard, change the oil in the old Mustang, throw a ball back and forth, or (best of all) just do nothing at all. It was always a highlight of the week for me, and for him, too, I thought. But as he got older, and after he got his cell phone, things started to change.
It became harder and harder to get his attention. He'd show up on Saturday, plunk down on the sofa, and immediately start texting or flipping through the images on his phone. Suddenly he didn't want to do anything, didn't want to talk, didn't want to go outside. Our Saturday became a lot more quiet and a lot less fun.
Well. Instead of scolding him, or shaming him, or cajoling him into being more engaged with his grandpa, I decided to try another tack: straight bribery. One Saturday, after his dad dropped him off, I said, "Alright: I'll give you twenty bucks if you put your cell phone away the entire time you're here. Take it or leave it." He frowned at this, at first, suspicious, but then I could see him thinking. Twenty bucks! "Okay," he said, finally, and without another word I grabbed his phone and put it on top of the microwave. And I gave him a crisp $20 bill.
"So, what do I do now?" he said, after pocketing the money.
"You'll just have to figure something out," I said. "But I'm going outside to shoot some hoops."
And again, let me say, I've got nothing against technology - I've got a fully reconstructed knee made of titanium, for heaven's sake! If not for technology, I wouldn't be able to get around nearly as well as I do. But there are some pretechnology things that are pretty cool, too. Things like fresh air, exercise, laughing.
You can probably guess what happened. After about 5 minutes my grandson stepped outside, and, when a stray shot bounded his way, he grabbed the ball and shot it. Swish! I threw the ball back to him for another shot, and another make. As if a switch had been flipped, my grandson was back - laughing, running around, blocking my shots (in my defense, the old knee doesn't push off quite like it used to). We spent the rest of the afternoon like we always had, carelessly, playfully.
When his dad came to pick him up, my grandson ran inside to get his cell phone. When he came back he was smiling; he gave me hug, and said "Next Saturday!" Back in the house, I looked on top of the microwave, and where his cell phone had been, now there was the same crisp $20 bill. Not a bad kid, I thought.