Posted on August 3rd, 2015 by Beth Finke
It’s the first week of August already, and the first day of school isn’t far away. How about we start the month with a guest post by a friend of mine who is a writer and a teacher?
Carolyn Alessio’s work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and Brain, Child. Her novel manuscript was a finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize for socially engaged fiction. Carolyn teaches at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago and tells me this is a story she often shares with her students.
by Carolyn Alessio
The couple in their 50s or 60s sat down at the table in front of me, whipped out their phones and began to text like teenagers just released from a museum tour.
Glancing up over my computer at the Pilsen coffee shop, I feared I was witnessing the end of interpersonal communication. This was almost 10 years ago, so the phones were flip models (or “dumb”) and the owners likely weren’t tracking progress of NASA’s latest Mars Rover or pulling up the results of recent blood work. But they texted madly anyway for the next hour, looking up only occasionally to sip their lattes or actually stare into each other’s faces.
All around us, other customers spoke to each other in Spanish and English. Music by Maná, a Mexican pop rock band, floated around us as well with bachata melodies and romantic lyrics. The rich ambience often drew me to the coffee shop. But it
all seemed lost on the two at the table in front of me, who might as well have been wearing headphones or sitting in different cities.
Pausing over a knotty section of my novel, I remember worrying about my high school students and my own small daughter. Would technology destroy their ability to connect personally, to make small talk as well as to look others in the eye and proclaim the truth in their hearts? And if they did, would it be abbreviated in text-shorthand such as ATSITS for “All the stars in the sky?”
Maybe, I thought, I should just start teaching soliloquies in shorter bursts. Macbeth’s bitter, rueful monologue after the suicide of his wife might be boiled down to begin “2MOR & 2MOR & 2MOR.”
With technology and others’ use of it, it’s easy to be judgmental. My now-teenage daughter frequently reminds me of this tendency.
That day in Pilsen, the couple in front of me finally stood up and put down their phones. As they went to say goodbye, however, they exchanged no spoken words. Instead, I watched in amazement as they signed expressions I recognized from basic American Sign Language: I love you, Goodbye.
These days I often tell my students about my presumption that the two in the coffee shop WERE merely using technology to disconnect rather than to connect. I am still anxious about the potential of technology to supplant emotion, but I am also aware of its ability to miraculously enhance it.