You see them everywhere. Two, three or more youngsters sitting on a bench or lounging up against a wall, heads down, peering intently at their cellphones. Or walking absentmindedly down a street, two telltale wires emerging from their ears and connected to the phone they’ve got in their hand, just a few inches from their face.
It’s a sign of the times, you say. A sign of the mental and physical decay of the modern age. Now all the young do is sit in front of their computer screens or gaze at their smartphones while absentmindedly munching sugar and salt-laden fast food.
“It wasn’t like that in our day!” you exclaim. “In our day we children went out and kick balls or climb trees. The kids of today? Fat and lazy.”
Well, here’s a thought. Why on earth can’t “people of a certain age” (aka those old enough to have grandkids) embrace modern technologies, too? I know we do, my beloved and I. We both have very smart smartphones (coincidentally, identical models). We Whatsapp furiously with all and sundry (including friends and relatives all over the world), we both have a presence on Facebook (and compete as to how many friends each of us has), we bank from our phones, check our credit card transactions, read and send emails off our phones, and use our phones as cameras (the phones have far better cameras, with better lenses, than any conventional cameras we may have now gathering dust in cupboards).
In addition, our phones have replaced our old Map Studio map books, and the Garmin devices in our cars, as music players and as radios (thank you, LM Radio for your streaming service).
I use mine as a torch, a spirit level, an area measuring tool (I thus have an accurate measure of the number of square meters in any one of my plot’s fields … useful when calculating fertiliser coverage, for example), and as an exercise monitor (how many steps have you walked today)?
My phone also wakes me up in the morning, reminds me of what I need to do during the day and tells me the weather forecast (not that it’s very accurate, but then neither are the forecasts from the SA Weather Service).
At one stage I had an app that plotted and identified the stars in the night sky simply by pointing the phone upwards in any direction, (but I found it pretty inaccurate).
And, arguments and bets about titles of songs and the artists who sang them are a thing of the past thanks to Shazam.
Plus, of course, I get my news from my phone and when I need a laugh there are always Riaad Moosa clips on YouTube. And I challenge anybody to take me on in the Africa quizzes on QuizUp.
Finally, if I’m ever stuck for a fact, date, or information on any subject under the sun there’s always Wikipedia (although I have to admit that our daughter is better at this than we are. Her fingers are lightning fast over the keypad and although she achieved a large number of distinctions in Matric and has two university degrees behind her name her dexterity on her phone makes her look like she has a much broader general knowledge than she does).
Is all of this bad? Although our children often comment on the two of us hunched over our phones furiously Facebooking or WhatsApping “Look at you two on your phones… Just like a bunch of lazy teenagers!” they say, in (hopefully mock) disgust. But no, frankly, it’s not bad. The world is changing, and the nature of life is changing (one could also say that the life of nature is changing, but that’s a topic for another day) and while there are downsides to embracing wholesale the modern technologies (what happened to the nicety of a letter written on good quality notepaper?) there is no earthly reason that I can see why one should not use for one’s convenience what has been invented for that purpose.
Our forebears, after all, embraced wholeheartedly the concept of the flushing toilet, and the motor car, and even the old-fashioned steam-telephone itself, when they were invented.
And at my age the thought of humping around a telephone, encyclopaedia, Garmin, camera bag, radio and all the other paraphernalia of the bygone age, or peering at the well- thumbed pages of a Map Studio map book to find my way around is deeply unappealing.
Although I would like to shut up that bloody American woman who shouts the directions out of my Google Maps app on my phone. Maybe there’s a way to change her for an Oirsh Colleen? Or Brigitte Bardot, perhaps?