My family and I were driving to the zoo in Seattle, where we were to meet our friends. At a crucial point, it dawned on us that the path to the zoo was not as direct as it appeared on the map. Irritation rose. The accusations and innuendo started back and forth, mostly from me. Feelings were hurt, and when we finally found our way to the right gate to the zoo, we had to quickly make amends, become friends again, and stop the kids from crying before we met up with our other party.
Our friends were there at the appointed place, patiently waiting, and relieved to see us. After I apologized and related our misadventures with one-way streets, etc., Bob shrugged it off, explaining that he just follows his GPS so he doesn’t have to worry about it. Fiona interjected, somewhat exasperatedly, “I would have liked to phone you guys, but...” and the unfinished sentence was “you don’t have a cell!” I’ve heard it many times: “You don’t have a cell? Oh.... If you just had a cell...” Such a lack has become insane, it seems. My unspoken thought is, “What’s the alarm? So we had a moment when we didn’t have all the intel about what was happening – the way transportation and communication has been for thousands of years – full of gaps.”
Later, I had a chance to consider what we lost by not having GPS or a cell and compare that to what we would have lost by having these gadgets. In spite of the obvious convenience gained in this situation by using a smart phone with GPS, I’m happy we didn’t have them.
For one thing, it may just be the male in me, but I resist the blind following after GPS commands. I like maps and finding my way. GPS requires almost no participation on my part, no preparation and understanding of the lay of the land. It eliminates the need to know the neighborhood and the various oddities and unique features of the street grid. And if I’d been using GPS, I’d have missed out on a deeper appreciation of the area that I gained by backtracking and circling the neighborhood. I think people would experience a greater personal connection to their places without the “connections” of smart devices.
This may sound too subtle to be important, or even a little pathetic, but I’m more human for doing it the old way, and I believe we all would be more human without smart phones and GPS.
Allow me another observation to explain why. Because we did not have the convenience of these gadgets, I'm more connected to my wife. We may have been ready to join the zoo ourselves by the time we got there, but I do believe we gained some valuable self-discovery by having to work with only what we had – each other and our instincts – and figure it out while dealing with our little on-road conflict. I hear the other husbands, “Fool! Take the GPS, dude!” Yep, in the short run this certainly would have saved us some grief. But that savings is minimal compared to the greater understanding we now have of each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and sensitivities. I now know, for example, I’ll think twice about criticizing my wife about directions after messing up myself, and I’ll appreciate more her intuitive approach to finding one’s way. I’ll be more ready to put my ego in check. I also know better about when I have to be most on guard against irritation and anger. We’ve gained another step on a more important road to acceptance and conflict management. Hopefully, these insights will spill over into other areas of our relationship.
An epilogue to the above story: On the way driving back from the zoo, we were rear-ended by someone who was apparently texting while driving. No, I didn’t lecture the other driver. The evidence already said much more than I could.
I have two pre-school aged kids, and I wonder how to help them through the choices they’ll face with the waves of ever new smart gadgetry? On the playground one day I noticed all the play had stopped and a bunch of kids, including my girls, were huddled around a four-year-old boy enjoying a game app on a smart gadget. My heart sank as my girls’ eyes widened and demanded that they get one too. I broke up the huddle and told the kids this was a playground and pointed them to the slides and swings. I’m not sure what the parents watching thought of my actions, but I hope it was taken well.
As smart gadgets make new inroads into our lives with their dazzling attractions, what will happen to creative play and what we used to call “physical education”? How will I encourage my kid’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual development as they face the challenges of smart technology? How will we protect and nurture what is uniquely human in us?