One day, a man passed us talking on his phone. It was a car phone, but in his hand. It was the first one I had ever seen outside of a TV show about drug dealers and the cops who hunt them. The two of us, 16 and 17, shook our heads in shock--and disgust. "No one is that busy," my brother said.
I wonder what the other guys sitting along Wacker thought. Young as we were, it had to be a remarkable site to more than just us. Maybe a few on those plaza steps envied the man and his on-the-go style and coveted a mobile phone of their own. My guess, though, is that even right there outside one of the hubs of modern capitalism, most agreed no one was that busy.
Over the next decade signs of a changing world piled up. There was the time in 1996 when a woman's cell-phone went off in my Modern American Lit class at Marquette University. Our professor-- as mild-mannered a guy to ever teach a humanities course--icily told her to turn it off. Now. The rest of the class was about as appalled.
Around the same time, my friends and I had a running joke where you'd ask someone for their cell-phone, or better yet for their flip phone. It was a bit, set up for gags about status we lacked, because of course none of us broke people in our early 20s had a cellular phone. (Improbable as it may seem now, I assure you this was kinda funny.) The last time I cracked the joke, the person handed me their flip-phone.
I was one of the last people my age to get one-- at 27, and only because I (kind of) had to for work. For several years I made a point not to take it everywhere with me, of avoiding texting with it (an easy pledge on those pain-in-the-ass alpha-numeric pads), and to generally resist being a man who'd walk down Wacker being that busy.
I will spare you the rest of my slow seduction into being, just like you, that busy. But of course I am now. And so are you. You are probably reading this (mom) on a cell phone. You are possibly reading it instead of doing something more civilized, like walking down Wacker Drive and enjoying the breeze. You may even hate yourself for it.
The memory of my first cell-phone siting came back to me yesterday when the most unremarkable thing happened: while pushing a jogging stroller through Oz Park, I had to avoid colliding with a toddler on a scooter. His dad stood five feet away, oblivious to his child and to me, his eyes focused on his phone.
I thought nothing of it. While I prefer parents--myself especially--to only use a phone at the park to take a few cute pictures, I get it. His phone beeped or buzzed and he needs to look at it right now. Of course. Or maybe he forgot to check the weather forecast for somewhere he'll be five days from now and needs to know it immediately. Sure. Maybe he wanted to know how much Neapolitan pizza goes for in Iowa City, Iowa. All excuses make perfect sense. I've become so used to phones that at first I only noticed my own responsibility not to clobber a three-year-old with a double stroller.
What would my brother and I have said if we had witnessed such a thing in 1991? How many people would we have told? How appalled would everyone have been at the certainly-criminal parent? I'm sure even the most materialistic of men sitting across from the Merc on that long-ago summer day would have shouted at the guy. A few might have even told him him, right to his face, that no one is that busy.