When I was a kid, we played outside until it got dark. We hated when our mother’s would call us inside. Year round you could find us running with our friends from the block or riding our bikes to the local candy shop to buy something with the pennies we’d collected. The internet and smart phones didn’t exist yet. Everyone knew their neighbors and all the kids played tag on the block no matter what the gaps were in age. Life was more simple. If you had a question, you didn’t look it up on google, you asked around until you found someone with the answer. People communicated with one another, face to face. Now, this feels like a thing of the past.
I’m appalled when I go out to a restaurant and see couples sitting on their phones instead of talking. I hate seeing groups of preteen girls giggling and posing for selfies for hours instead of gossiping. No one looks up from their phones to view their surroundings. They practically get run over by cars as they cross the street glued to their phones. People rarely make conversations with strangers, because now when you are lost you don’t have to ask for directions you can just look to your phone to find your way.
There is just no need to interact with each other anymore. We drive in our cars from home to work and home again separated from other human beings. We walk around in a bubble ignoring the world around us and even when we are with our loved ones and friends we are too preoccupied by the greater world on the internet than those in front of us. I’m no saint though either. I am guilty of filling quiet moments with scrolling Facebook or Instagram to see what others are up to instead of thinking and observing. I never sit with my thoughts and observe the world around me. If my friend or partner bring out their phone to check a text, I immediately grab for my own in response. We can’t simply be with one another or with ourselves anymore.
The sad part is, I at least grew up in a world without this technology, but kids these days are born with a phone or iPad in their hands. Parents choose to entertain their babies with games and TV shows on their iPads instead of coloring books, like we used to have. It is a different world. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 15, now kids get them as young as 7 years old. They just aren’t learning to be kids anymore and to play and be creative with their friends to entertain themselves. They aren’t going outside, unless it is to catch Pokémon. This makes me sad.
Then a big snow storm hit Portland, and I witnessed the humanity inside of everyone that I thought had all but disappeared. I watched as complete strangers helped each other by pushing cars stuck in the snow. I heard on the news that a man living close to a highway exit, came down from his home to welcome those stuck in traffic for hours to use his bathroom. People shared food. People got out of their bubbles and talked to one another. Humanity reappeared in the face of of a storm.
Ethan and I decided to not stay in our house all day, and to go for a long walk around the neighborhood. What we discovered on the streets was something that reminded me of my childhood and that I didn’t realize how much I missed: it was pure human interaction with complete strangers. Everywhere we went we encountered people of all ages, out of their houses, walking, shoveling, and enjoying the snow. There were groups of kids and preteens walking and laughing together, not on their phones. We befriended a 57 year old woman, who talked to us about her concerns with the youth being so addicted to their screens. We agreed, yet I still checked my phone for texts and took pictures with it to capture the moments. It is a scary addiction.
We engaged in a couple words with every man or woman out shoveling their driveways and laughed in joy at the smallest things in life. Snow. Snow brought us all together. When we reached Multnomah Village, people waddled down the hill in snow shoes or scuttled across the road on their cross country skis. It was a sight to be seen. Portland turned into a Nordic snow park.
Inside the warm and cozy bar, the stools were packed with fully bundled patrons sipping beers and chatting with their neighbors, even if they didn’t know them. People stood in every corner clutching their drinks and smiling. Legs stretched out across booths with skis and snow shoes leaning against the walls. The smell of potatoes frying in oil, burgers sizzling on the grill, and hops pouring into chilled glasses filled the atmosphere. Chatter hummed around everyone’s heads, and we found ourselves a newly opened tall table to sit and observe. By habit, we took out our phones to scan the internet world, then looked at each other and realized that we needed to put them away and enjoy the world around us.
Snow didn’t keep people inside attached to their media, it brought everyone outdoors and into communal spaces to interact organically. I loved it! People rubbed elbows, clinked glasses, and watched the scores of sports games on the big screen TVs. We ordered soup and split two sandwiches and hot liquor filled drinks to warm up. I let the grease of my BLT drip down my chin and the creamy tomato-based corn chowder sting my tongue from the heat. I dipped my Havarti grilled cheese on rustic bread in the soup and enjoyed every bite. This was the life, and all on a work day.
Snow days are freeing. They bring us back to the times before technology wrapped around our brains and turned us into slaves. We left the bar feeling toasty inside and out and full to the brim with food. From there we walked to Gabriel Park. We stopped to take pictures of snowmen built by kids and their parents, and houses painted in snow and still hanging Christmas lights. The paths we traversed through the woods hovered right over the very same roads we drove everyday, yet we never noticed their proximity.
The snow coated every branch of the trees. Everything felt still and peaceful, despite hanging over the well traveled road. I felt transported to another world. The silence hugged me. Wind gushed up against my ears and whooshed through the criss-cross of the tree branches. We reemerged from the jungle to find wide expanses of white fields and towering grandfather trees. I collapsed into the fluffy white blanket and swished my arms and legs to make a snow angel, like the ones I used to make as a kid. I didn’t mind the cold pressing against my back. I felt reconnected with nature and my youth playing in the snow.
We crossed the road, which was slushy and normally highly trafficked. Ethan showed me his dad’s old apartment up a side road. A woman tried to drive up the steep incline, but her car soon got stuck and slid back down. A couple played with their two young boys as they sledded down the hill. Then everyone close to the woman began to help coach her and aid her. No one stared at their phones, oblivious to the woman’s predicament. People were well aware of their surroundings and two men stopped to talk to the woman about her options. She appeared frantic and confused about being stuck. We stood and watched the scene from the outside, observing humans interacting with one another and helping each other. It brought me joy to see these human interactions that don’t happen on a daily basis.
We returned to the park to find a scene full of happiness and old school enjoyment. Shouts and laughter filled the air as kids and their families flew down the hill on sleds. One mother and son worked on an igloo since 10am. Two young boys asked if there was WiFi or Netflix inside the igloo. Their joke reminded all the adults how children find enjoyment these days, instead of just taking joy in the creativity of playing outside. The mother responded to the boys that you don’t need any of that out here. I agreed.
We watched a group of teens and young adults snowboarding down the off-leash park hill and performing tricks off of a half buried picnic table. Ethan filmed some of the kids flying down the hill. It was a marvel to see all of these kids of all ages outside having fun without their smartphones. Three 18 year old boys gripped on to ropes attached to their friend’s car and hitched a ride around the parking lot on their snowboards. The common emotion filling the air was joy. Pure unadulterated joy. The feeling was infectious and soon wrapped its soft cheerful arms around me, making my cheeks tight from smiling.
I wished we had sleds to join in on the fun. Kids giggled and screamed as they flew down the slick snowy hills. Dad’s took their turns at gliding down on inner tubes, flipping over at the bottom to smash their faces into the snow. It’s sad to think that this is the most genuine quality time any of these parents have spent with their kids in a long time. I may be wrong, but I just know that parents complain about their kids burying their faces in their phones and not interacting with them anymore. The snow has changed that. The snow has brought families together for some good old fashioned fun.
I stared on enviously at the families, wishing I could join in, but I drew joy from everyone’s enjoyment. Young boys zipped down the hill and off jumps on their snowboards. Grown men skied by on their cross country skis. Everyone prayed this could continue for days. We watched the sun brimming the white sky along the horizon, and knew that we must head home before it sinks too low and we can’t see in the dark. So, we trudged home through the foot deep mounds making a full loop on the trail through Gabriel Park.
On our return, there were more cars tempting the road, and I found myself missing the eerie emptiness of the road when it was too dangerous to drive. We stopped in the World Market for some eggs and milk, where the lines were snaking down the aisles. My legs burned with exhaustion, and my socks started to feel damp from the snow and sweat of the day. Making it home after 6 miles of neighborhood hiking felt warm and achy in my muscles. I collapsed into our couch exhausted from a full happy day.
I wish we could hold on to this snow day feeling forever. I want to monitor my own technology addiction and be more aware of my surroundings. I want to walk more through the local paths, instead of driving. Human interaction with strangers excites me now, more than it ever did before, probably because it is something we are missing these days. We have cut ourselves off from the world, by connecting ourselves to the world wide web. Despite being more connected these days to everyone near and far, we are increasingly more disconnected from the immediate world around us. We live in a far off land in the ethers of the internet rather than in the world we live, work, and play in each day. This is only going to get worse, unless everyone makes a conscious effort to be present in their own world and interact with human beings face to face each day.
I vow now as my New Year’s Resolution, and a life resolution, to be more connected to my own reality and world and less connected to the internet. I want to be more present in my own environment. I want to make genuine conversation with a complete stranger at least twice a week and ideally once a day. Instead of immediately reaching for my phone when someone gets up from the table to use a bathroom or if I arrive early somewhere, I vow to just sit and observe; observe my surroundings and observe my inner self. I want to reconnect with me and everyone else. My partner snaps at me when I sit on my phone while we are hanging out, so I want to stop doing that. What is more important than the person next to me?
Can you do this? Can your kids do this? I realize the importance of evolving with the times and technology, but I worry about what this will do to our humanity. Will we all lose touch of reality? Will people find themselves in need of help, surrounded by people too addicted to their screens to look up and recognize their need? We are more connected to the issues facing the world, but we think a simple share or like on Facebook will solve the problem. Instead, we need to actively fight and get involved in real life or the problems won’t go away as fast as our screen scrolls from one issue to the next. We need to reconnect with our own humanity, snow or no snow. If we lose our humanity, this experiment called Human has failed. We are meant to take on the world together, not alone with our phones.
Let’s take time to reconnect and disconnect at the same time. Let’s live in reality. Let’s interact with our fellow man and woman. Let’s evolve our hearts to include everyone we encounter.