Here are some things I no longer do: Go to the bank, browse in a bookstore, mail a letter, try on clothing, touch fabric in a linens store, read an actual book, or shop at a department store (no wonder they’re all closing).
Now that our reality is becoming increasingly virtual, our sensory experiences are slowly but surely going the way of the pay phone (remember the ka-ching sound of the coins as they dropped into the phone coin slot?) and my personal former favorite … the typewriter (remember the staccato tapping of the keys and the tinkly chime of the bell when you pushed the carriage return?) No, I didn’t think so.
Long and satisfying phone conversations with family and friends have been replaced with a few words of texting. Emoticons have replaced the sound of laughter. How soon will it be before we take a meal pill instead of sitting down to dinner? Or never leave our homes, which, considering the increasing rate of violence in public places, may be just as well.
As convenient as it is to shop online, download a book, or stream a video, I believe so much is lost from our daily life when we live most of it on a screen. Consider the old-school experience of going to a store to shop for a special-occasion dress: driving to the mall, interacting with a sales clerk (OK, so maybe this isn’t the best example), consulting with your BFF about your possible purchase, and just being out and about in the world. How can you compare an online “shopping cart” to the tangible sense of anticipation that comes from toting home an actual paper shopping bag just bursting with great buys?
Recently I watched a TV show that featured a segment about one of the last Blockbuster video stores in the country. Not surprising, it is located in Alaska, where expensive and spotty internet coverage makes online streaming less available and attractive to much of the population. Patrons reported how much they still enjoy the customer service and interaction. Indeed, there is something to be said for getting a recommendation from a person instead of an online review, and to stroll through thousands of titles instead of scrolling down a screen.
While I’m sure most of us enjoy being able to select, order, and watch videos from our couch, I can still recall the thrill of the hunt … driving to the video store and experiencing the excitement of finding the last remaining box containing that film we really wanted to watch. There was a sense of community in the air, with everyone asking one another for recommendations of titles to rent. Back at home, we popped that videocassette into our player, and waited expectantly for the mechanical whirring sound that signified it was about to start. And of course we would always “be kind and rewind”!
With the entire world at my fingertips on Facebook, now I can watch a deranged man murder an innocent bystander just for the fun of it. Or read painful posts from parents who say their children are bullied mercilessly 24/7 online. I can witness a car crashing into a crowd of people as an act of terror. On a less gruesome note, I can view photos of every bleeping course of the expensive gourmet meal my cousin had for dinner, view online posts about great parties I wasn’t invited to, and drool over Instagrams of exotic trips I can’t afford to take. And while it’s nice to see and hear my grandchildren on FaceTime, it’s frustrating not to be able to hug or touch them.
No thanks. Despite the admitted conveniences of downloading and shopping online, I think we are missing the essence of life when most of what we do involves a mouse and a screen, and little or no interaction with the real world. Convenience and efficiency are all well and good, but not when they become substitutes for the life we used to lead. Count me among those ancient relics who prefer to read the morning newspaper spread across the breakfast table and who would rather see a real smile than an emoticon that imitates one.
And I never want to give up that delicious hug from my grandchild.
Sherry Wolkoff is a writer from Marlton. email@example.com