There was a time when I could go to the grocery store and wander inside to pick up the stuff I thought we might need in the cupboard. Heck, there were times when I walked in there and I even had a grocery list.
But these days a person can whip out a cell phone and call another person to find out what it is they need to buy, making grocery lists a thing of the past.
For me, this is a blessing, because I am the most forgetful person on the planet.
I walk inside the store, and I have to make at least four calls. First I call because I forgot to bring the list that Mrs. Chef made for me, and she gets to feel superior because I would forget my own butt if it weren't firmly attached to the end of my spine. Then I need to call her again to figure out what we forgot to put on the list, and then there is the conversation by the video rack to figure out whether I get to watch an action movie or if I'm going to have to endure another romance film about vampires and werewolves. Finally there is the conversation by the aisle of feminine hygiene products that always leaves me confused and uncomfortable.
I have to wonder on occasion if modern technology is actually that helpful.
On Saturday I was shopping in the produce section.
Over by the cantaloupes, I could see and hear a young woman having an argument on a phone with her distant mother-in-law about plans for dinner while a child clung to her leg looking upwards at the most important person in her life talking to invisible people. I wondered how people would have reacted 40 years ago when I was a child if my mother stood in the middle of the grocery store babbling out loud to no one about the dangerous chemical pesticides on the melons. The term “unfit parent” comes to mind.
An elderly woman came zipping by on one of those electric carts, and she was muttering into her cell phone, “Bill, I don't think the battery is charged on this thing, so you better tell me where they keep the Preparation H fast.” I was unsure if she was talking about the battery in the cart or in her phone.
And that's when it hit me.
We think this stuff connects us, but it take the tiniest bit of attention to recognize that technology allows us to shut out people through the obscure body language by letting everyone in the immediate area know that, rather than being a babbling crazy person, they are actually having a rational conversation.
The serious social awkwardness occurs when you need to find someone at the grocery store.
I'll whip out the old cell phone and call my wife, even though I know she is somewhere inside the store, probably within the sound of my voice.
It all ends up with us approaching each other in the flesh while we have that awkward moment where you have to say goodbye to the person on the phone and restart the conversation with the same person trying to sign off on their conversation.
It's a little like being in two places at once, except it looks stupid.
When you think about it, you realize that these ubiquitous small bricks of plastic and electronics that countless people hold beside their heads have changed the world of psychology in a fundamental and permanent fashion.
The next time you see someone blathering to empty air, ask yourself - is this a normal person with a cellphone, or am I looking at a nutjob with an earache?
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