Scenes from a very modern 18-hour visit between friends:
The kitchen table is strewn with sections from two newspapers, three laptops (one of them the kind with widdle bunny ears), an iPhone, two venti Starbucks cups, my Flip video camera, two Gorillapods and, I dunno, maybe a salt and pepper shaker. “Sometimes I’m reading a paperback, and I try to flick the page with my finger,” says Sam. Not the way you flick a mosquito off the page. The iPhone flick. “Did you see these e-mails from Leslie?” she asks John, looking up from the iPhone. “Already answered,” he replies, not looking up from the laptop.
This is how we interact these days. John shoots a little video of Sam reading the e-mail and shows it to me, because I was sitting next to her when she did so, and I guess I might like to see it from another angle. Sam takes a picture of our stained-glass panel for her iPhone wallpaper. Then she takes a picture of the dog. Then we all realize what we’re doing, and go for a walk.
“Put on hats, it’s cold outside!” a passerby scolds us. Apparently the multiple weather widgets installed on every single electronic device on the kitchen table failed to warn us that it was 30 degrees. So we stop at Starbucks for more venti cups and a warmup. I tie Spriggy’s leash to a post outside. Sam takes a picture of him through the window. Good. He hasn’t had his picture taken in five or 10 minutes, and two or three soft-hearted ladies have petted him on their way in. No wonder his self-esteem is so toweringly high.
We need something, we decide. Maybe…a bottle of wine and a bunch of snacks. Also, a two-pound salmon filet and something from the deli called “Michigan black bean salad.” Cucumber, dill, Greek yogurt, a baguette, and we’re good to go.
Does the iPhone ring during dinner? Of course it does. I wait for John to say, “I’ll call you back after we finish eating,” but he doesn’t, because it’s a semi-emergency, the call is coming from Sam’s brother, stuck in an airplane on a runway at Hartsfield in Atlanta for going on three hours, and he wants to alert the media. Does John have a number at CNN? he wants to know. “How strange that you’re in Atlanta, where we live, but we’re in Detroit, but anyway you’re in the plane and can’t get out,” John says, before giving him the number. I kept waiting for him to check the weather, like the guy in the commercial, who used his iPhone to liberate a similarly imprisoned flight. It wouldn’t do any good, because the reason the flight is sitting on the ground is terrible weather in Atlanta. It’s snowing there, which we learned from an earlier phone call from John’s brother, who also lives there.
I wonder where this salmon came from, I thought. I hope not China.
Anyway, the dinner was delicious. We watched Jon Stewart dismember Jonah Goldberg, put all the devices to sleep and/or charge, and went to bed ourselves.*
This morning I read, not online, a NYT review of a book called “Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob.” It begins:
In “Against the Machine,” the swaggeringly abrasive cultural critic Lee Siegel pays a visit to Starbucks. He sits down. He looks around. And he finds himself surrounded by Internet zombies, laptop-addicted creatures who have so grievously lost their capacity for human interaction “that social space has been contracted into isolated points of wanting, all locked into separate phases of inwardness.” How long until they wake up and smell the coffee?
Mr. Siegel’s field trip illustrates several things, not least that Starbucks is today’s most hackneyed reportorial setting. His outing captures a vision of connectivity that is the precise opposite of what it appears to be. For him the semblance of a shared Starbucks experience masks endemic computer-generated isolation, a condition that has prompted psychic and ethical breakdowns that go well beyond the collapse of community.
He should have come for dinner last night. The salmon could have fed another easily, and maybe he would have had some suggestions for Sam’s brother to call. Then she would have taken his picture.
Does Lee Siegel read Bossy? I’d like to hear what the swaggeringly abrasive cultural critic (can I get that job? Because I’ve got the skilz) has to say about her brand of humor writing, which combines the elements of photography, colored type, italics, strikethroughs and Photoshop-with-arrows to tell a story about her slippers which makes you glad you spent 45 seconds hearing about. Why can amateurs figure out the unique syntax of the web, and college-educated professional journalists can’t? Put that in your venti Starbucks cup and drink it, Lee Siegel.
Whenever I see a picture like the one with this story, I remember the federal judge in Columbus, Ohio, who ejected a female lawyer from his courtroom in the 1970s for the crime of wearing a pantsuit. The old geezer’s dead now, but I wonder what he’d think of a 75-year-old lawyer with his gray hair tucked into a neat braid at the back of his head. Note that he got charges dismissed against his client, who was a candidate for tar and feathers last year, when she was accused of hanging up on a boy who called 911. Well-played, sir. A little Googling reveals the same lawyer was instrumental in reviving the career of Andy Bey, which earns him a place in jazz heaven, no matter how long his ponytail is.
You know how you know you’re really, really old? When you see a gossip item that begins like this —
Bye-bye, Justin Bobby! Audrina Patridge has a new beau.
— and you not only have no idea who the people are, you don’t even have the slightest itty-bittiest ghost of a hint of a desire to know who they are, and what’s more, you know that even if you bothered to find out, in the name of keeping up with what the kids are into these days, you know that both people will be over by the time you can Google the names. You just have a sixth sense about these things.
* Some events reported out of order, but all events actually happened.