Essays,  Personal growth

Quiet desperation and the digital age

“A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.”

~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Red Oaks Nature Center / Cindy La Ferle

Last week I was talking to a friend who also has a love-hate relationship with her iPhone. Like me, she forgets to check it sometimes and has to be reminded to put the thing in her purse — which seems to annoy other people. Not carrying a cell phone is now considered an act of civil disobedience.

We agreed that smartphones have totally changed the way we live, in positive and negative ways. Life has taken on a sense of immediacy like never before. With phone in hand, everything is at our fingertips, including a current list of showtimes at the local movie theater and a roster of friends we can contact on impulse any time we’re bored or lonely. And yes, in a true emergency, a cell phone can be a lifesaver.

The way I see it, however, there’s something OCD about folks who can’t eat, drive, shop, or take a walk without texting, talking on the phone, or checking social media. If these people weren’t such a hazard, I’d feel sorry for them.

Whenever I’m in the car, for instance, it’s rare that I don’t see drivers using cell phones. En route to the grocery recently, I made a point of watching other drivers each time I stopped at a traffic light. Three out of four were jabbering on cell phones or texting. I’m willing to bet these are the same clueless fools who’ve veered into my lane or nearly run me off the road more times than I can count on one free hand. No wonder the stats for serious traffic accidents are on the rise. 

Once I arrived at the market, I also noticed a few shoppers conversing on their cell phones — as if selecting a can of vegetable soup in mindful silence was unthinkable.

Unlike my hero, Henry David Thoreau, I can’t even take refuge in the woods to escape any of this. On the nature trail yesterday, several hikers on cell phones interrupted the tranquil sound of autumn leaves rustling on the path. 

Of course, I immediately thought of Thoreau’s famous line about the mass of men leading “lives of quiet desperation.” Then again, the desperation of modern life isn’t remotely quiet. ~Cindy La Ferle


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Throughout my career, I've worked as a book production editor, travel magazine editor, features writer, and weekly newspaper columnist. My award-winning lifestyles features and essays have appeared in many national magazines and anthologies, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Writer's Digest, Victoria, Better Homes & Gardens, Bella Grace, and more. My weekly Sunday "Life Lines" column ran for 14 years in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI) and won a First Place (Local Columns) award from the Michigan Press Association. My essay collection, Writing Home, includes 93 previously published columns and essays focusing on parenthood and family life.

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