I know they’re still there, at least I think so.
They used to be right under the forehead and above the nose, but honestly, I hardly see them anymore. People’s eyes. If you think I’m exaggerating, just take a look around the next time you’re sitting in a public place like a doctor’s waiting room, a restaurant, or a bar. Used to be, people complained because the magazines in the doctors’ offices were so outdated that the cover had a photo of Nixon on the steps of Air Force One waving goodbye, and the ads inside were for a Sony Walkman, Polaroid film, or a Pontiac anything. Now doctors’ offices don’t really need magazines in their waiting rooms — the ones they have aren’t terribly appealing anyway, with titles like “The Joy of Managing Your AFib,” “Know Your Bile Duct,” and “The Upside of Colonoscopies.” Nope, they can cancel those subscriptions to People Magazine, Time, Sports Illustrated, and the like, because everyone in their waiting room is no longer interested in reading. They’re looking, eyes downward, at their phones.
It hardly matters the demographic, either. Young and old alike are totally absorbed in that hunk of aluminum alloy loaded to the gills with data. Just try and get their attention; the young ones are virtually catatonic, so immersed are they in what’s before them. The older ones are frequently just bewildered, trying to figure out how to navigate their way through the damn thing.
Gone out to dinner lately? Where once you might have seen young couples holding hands across the table, looking longingly in each other’s eyes, now those same eyes are fixated downward in his and hers solitude. His on his phone and hers on hers. I have seen people go through entire meals without making eye contact with anything other than the chicken picatta on their plate, never speaking to one another.
Used to be when a family with small children in the party was out at a restaurant, a toy or two or a couple of stuffed animals were brought along to occupy the little ones so the adults could enjoy pleasant conversation without interruption. Now they hand the kid a phone and let them while away the time while they’re doing the same! My husband and I were in a popular seaside restaurant in Portland, Maine, a while back and observed a fairly large party of about 10 adults and one little girl seated on the level just above us. I sat absolutely transfixed, watching the adults set up one electronic after another for the little princess. There was a small screen so she could watch cartoons, a phone, and some sort of kiddie tablet. That kept her busy ... for a bit; however, little girls have little girl attention spans, and after a while she grew bored and cranky. The adults weren’t sure what to do. I might have suggested “parenting,” restraint, teaching her how to behave in a nice restaurant. They just sat clueless while she fussed.
If you really want to do a “case study” of the disappearing eyes, sit at a bar, especially a circular one. You don’t even have to partake in alcohol. Order a soft drink, a sandwich, whatever’s your pleasure, but take a good look around the bar. Nearly everyone has a smartphone, and they’re totally involved, even if it means being in a state of total oblivion. We were at a bar once, and the smoke alarm accidentally went off in the kitchen. No one at the bar even flinched! One or two glanced up, then went right back to whatever was more important than perhaps being in a real emergency, had one existed.
Saddest of all, is that while there is no eye contact, there is also complete and total non-engagement. No one is communicating with anyone else, and isn’t that why we go out for a cocktail or dinner in the first place? Remember when sharing a meal was more a social interaction than even about what you were actually eating? Now it’s neither, it’s just another venue from which to view your emails, send your texts, or play solitaire.
Solitaire … hmmm, what a perfect game for the smartphone user.
Postscript: Thank you to Sun readers who contacted me with postcards for our friend in the Ohio nursing home. Within 48 hours we had over 100. Let’s hear it for the power of the press!
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 17 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at email@example.com or 401-539-7762.