I don’t get out much these days…I mean out of Ojai. I do leave the house each morning to hike the local trails with Doc, but most of my outings are to the local market or the local golf course, or to visit local friends…perhaps a Sunday walk at the lake or the beach. I don’t mind it that way. Over the past 50 years or so, I have gone from the person who could not wait to taste the mysteries and marvels of the bigger world to exploring the mysteries and marvels of my inner world, to simply appreciating the mysteries and marvels that seem to appear around me with very little effort on my part to be searched out. I spend many afternoons with our granddaughter, Skye, a mystery and marvel unto her own. She is alive and curious and animated. That is, she has not yet begun to text. I rue the day.
I did get out last week, as far out as Kona, Hawaii, where Meredy and I lazed and golfed and read and repeated at the wonderful Hapuna Prince Hotel at Muana Kea beach. On our first afternoon we lucked out to land on one of those tented beach cabanas, sort of gifted to us by a young Hawaiian pool boy who said, “They usually rent for $30 a day, but today it is all yours, brother.”…which was pretty much the attitude of all the Hawaiians we met. From the vantage point of my $30 lounge, I had the unimpeded view of people of all sizes and shapes coming and going at the pool, remarkable young bodies in remarkably small bikinis, the strikingly tanned and the shockingly burned, and an array of hats that would put my own well-hatted closet to shame. I quickly settled into my book (The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen), but it was hard to focus much with the human parade which was being presented to me. As I soaked it all in, I began to realize that anyone who was not swimming in the pool was immersed in their technology. At first I thought “digital novels”, but , looking more closely, I saw that their thumbs were hammering away, their fingers were scrolling at a remarkable pace. Sitting at the edge of a white sand beach and an azure sea, they had drifted into the deeper ocean of facebook and twitter and facetime. OK, there was one woman who was reading People magazine, but nearly every other person at that pool and on that beach was on an iphone.
I shrugged it off and wandered over to the bar for a beer, where six people sat on stools, each on their phone, nursing their umbrellaed drinks. Tables were filled with families, but most of them, parents and children alike, were plugged in. By the next morning at breakfast, a luxurious buffet on a deck that looked out over the Pacific, I began to take note that nearly every young person and half of the older ones were on their devices. Mothers and fathers were having breakfast with children who were each immersed in their digital worlds. There were birds everywhere, poised to swoop down on each table as the patrons rose to leave, but a few had figured out that some may not notice a scrap of bread or bacon missing from their plate while texting. This went on at every meal and on every afternoon at the beach during our entire stay. I did see many people dozing in the sun, but I never did see anyone else reading a book. I felt incredibly old school. We did spot two whales, a mother and calf. And evidently, Hawaii has a burgeoning population of mongoose. (mongooses/mongeese?) We spotted a huge sea turtle as well. Each day the sea spread itself before us, lagoon blue in the foreground, white capped in the distance. While on the inland side, the clouds would build over the snow capped mountains, clearly dumping their load on the “wet side” of the Big Island. It was dramatic. We shot what we came to call Bikram Golf on two spectacular courses amid wild chickens, mongoose, and birds of every voice and color.
On our third day, Meredy and I walked down the beach to the sister hotel, the Muana Kea, more populated and perhaps even more striking in its broad beach and sea of umbrellas. Again we scored a couple of covered lounges by the sand, where we read and dozed and soaked in the day. About lunchtime, we wandered down to the beachside bar for a sandwich and a beer. Across the bar from us was a covey of women, mostly barely drinking age, but a few that we took to be their mothers. All were locked into their technology, but this group seemed to be (loudly) facetiming everyone they knew. Each seemed to have someone else on the phone. They all seemed to know each other well enough that the parties on the phone were relaying messages to other parties on other phones and everyone was having a spirited and virtual great time…except for those of us who had to listen to it all. They took up more than their share of airspace on that little patio. One mother, a seemingly wannabe 21 year old, well into what must have been her 4th or 5th Mai Tai, made a remarkable attempt to not only converse with whomever was on her phone, but to also take an active part in most of the other phone conversations as well. For some reason, she knew most of the bartenders by name and continually attempted to introduce them to her digital friends who seemed to be suffering inclement weather in Pebble Beach. The bartenders did not seem to be enjoying meeting their new friends and we began to imagine that we were about to see the first person ever cut off at a bar at 1pm in the afternoon. But then someone rushed over with yet another phone, so she gathered up her drink and ran off to facetime at the lunch tables. As we walked the path back to the hotel, we passed a lone woman, sitting on a rocky point at the edge of the sea. A solitary figure. She seemed to be on the phone.
As we prepared to leave the island on our last morning, sitting in the Kona airport waiting to board the plane to home, I asked Meredy to tell me if she could see a single other person of the hundreds around us that was not on a phone. We did find one father whose entire family was in the ether who seemed to be pacing about, giving the impression that he also would be on his phone, but he was too restless to sit for long. I thought, “OK, they are just killing time before the plane.” Then a new plane taxied up to the gate, disgorging a couple of hundred untanned bodies into paradise. I was startled to see that nearly every person under 40, stepping from the plane and through the enchanting outdoor terminal, was on their phone, busily hammering and scrolling to see what they had missed while flying over the Pacific. Being Easter morning, I was amused to see that many were wearing bunny ears. I suspect it was to improve reception.
Technology is a marvelous thing. After all, it allows me to do this. It puts a world of information at our fingertips and it makes the world smaller, enabling us to reach out to those we love though many miles away. But I suspect that it also often shrinks our experience down to the size of a small screen. I am sure that it opens other sorts of communication rather than that which might be had by a family over breakfast. But I write this in the wake of my shock of wandering out into the world only to find that the world is all twittering each other. Who knows, perhaps Mother Nature is trending this week …I just know that I am SO not trending.