July 18, 2014

Summer Essay

by Janyce Katz

Sitting in our car on the bridge from Canada, waiting to pass through U.S. security for an hour and a half, and watching the two customs agents patrol up and down between almost parked cars – our first trip to Canada in the pre-terrorist year of 1995 flashed through my mind.

Back then, we left business behind, used a payphone to call home to check on everyone, and focused on enjoying our time away. And after showing our driver’s licenses, we zipped into Canada and, later, back into the U.S.

Last week, the lakes and trees beckoned us to return to Niagara-on-the-Lake and to see an excellent presentation of Cabaret.

My husband and I did just that, bringing with us the iPad, the iPhone, some work for two of my clients, several of my husband’s projects, and some volunteer stuff that should have been finished the day before we left.

We each took a book, just in case we found a few minutes to read between keeping up with the work, exploring the area, watching plays, (did I say working?). We couldn’t.

This trip, we…excuse me, an e-mail beeped. I must answer.

Oh, yes, where was I. Oops. A text message needs a quick response.

Sorry, it’s 2014 and one must multitask, even when on vacation.

A friend tells a story about four teenagers in a restaurant, thumbs moving quickly as they texted, sometimes each other. After half an hour of silent texting, one girl asked in a small, sad voice, “Don’t you want to talk to me?” The other three kept texting.

We now have these wonderful tools. Computers that spell-check, usually correctly, and printers that certainly beat making carbon copies.

We connect to people we haven’t seen in years or have never met using social media. But, our endless clicking distances us from in person contacts and communities. Before most of us had air-conditioning and computers, neighbors sat on their porches, trying to escape the heat, talking to each other.

During those less structured days, kids gathered in back yards and played games. Maybe someone would float a sheet on a string out of an attic during a ghost story to liven up the audience. People could spend uninterrupted hours reading without hearing the “ding” of incoming e-mail.

With computer shopping, we lost our privacy. Now, our internet trail of purchases, including our travel and our online searches and book reading are easily found and used by businesses to sell to us or for other purposes.

I miss being the only one knowing what I was reading or buying at a given time. I miss the freedoms we had before we believed anyone wanted to explode us or our civilization out of existence.

Three e-mails from clients need immediate attention. Must go. Sorry.