L’Absinthe du 21e Siècle

L’Absinthe by Edward Degas, which is permanently housed in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. Image via Wikipedia.

I spent the weekend in Chicago with my wife celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary. While we were out to dinner one night at a very nice restaurant, I noticed that the young woman seated at the table next to us was texting. Maybe it was because we’d spent the previous day at the Art Institute of Chicago, but I immediately thought about how she looked like a modern day version of Edward Degas’ L’Absinthe.

Dressed in nice clothes, she texted away, unaware of the world around her while those off to her right looked elsewhere and chatted. On our way out of the restaurant, I noticed that her table’s food had come and that she was eating and engaged in conversation, but that prior moment of disengagement was pretty telling. It could have come out of sheer boredom and I guess I should be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I have to say that there are times when I do honestly worry about our culture’s increasing need to be “on” something all the time.

It’s not like I’m immune to this. As much as I tried to avoid it this weekend, I still spent some time in my hotel’s lobby mooching the free wifi and checking my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I didn’t post much–writing posts via Kindle can be a pain–but I did sense the pressure to have fun and show it off that a weekend like this can bring, as if my weekend or vacation wouldn’t be good enough because I took pictures for myself and didn’t share them with an authentic audience.

And I realize this makes me sound old and behind the times and that I should stop worrying about screen time and embrace changing technology and how the students I see on a regular basis live their lives and interact with the world.

But I so wanted the girl in that restaurant to take advantage of that lull in her evening by avoiding her phone, looking up, and taking in the atmosphere of what was a nice restaurant, and it made me wonder where we draw the line between embracing the technology that connects all of us and enabling a bad habit. Eventually, as the generation I’m teaching grows up, the cream will rise as it always does. And while I have no proof for this, I wonder if when the cream of this generation rises, if it will be those who know that documenting and interacting during every given moment wasn’t all it was cracked up to be (and yes, I realize that my being a yearbook adviser makes that statement a tad ironic). That aside from being born with certain advantages to begin with, the knew and were also taught about moderation, about observation, about contemplation, about examination, and about … well, living deliberately, I guess.

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