01 May 2008

I'm an old man...

Instead of going to the nearest Metro station one day this week after work I kept on walking to the next nearest Metro station. The weather was so darn pleasant I couldn't resist. Once DC summer hits I will loathe walking anywhere in work clothes so I thought I should take advantage of it. Plus there is a nice paved path that runs through a little greenway that links the King Street and Braddock Road stations. As I walked along I was in one of those "life is great" kind of moods. Dogs playing in the grass made me smile. The gentle clickty-clack of the Metro on the nearby tracks combined with the weather made me think for a moment that I was in suburban London not suburban DC. And the song birds were busy doing their thing. All in all it was a sublime moment carved out of everyday life.


After a bit, a twenty-something guy was headed my direction on the path and the sound from his iPod buds preceded him by quite a distance. I am guessing that most people have had those moments when someone elses' headphone volume seemed excessive. However, I was still surprised at how far his aural spillover carried down the length of the path. As soon as he passed and the sound of his iPod dissipated the songbirds could be heard again, another train went by, and a dog barked. Although I wasn't annoyed by hearing his music, in a way it was part of the patchwork of sound that made up the moment, but I did reflect on the fact that so many people today walk around plugged into something. Either they are on their phones exchanging inanities, unable to move from point A to point B without having a telephonic audience, or they are listening to music on headphones connected to an iPod. I have my cell phone and iPod, so I am no Luddite, but I can't help feeling like too many people are so plugged into an electronic world that they never hear the birds singing, let alone appreciate them.


Although only 38, I have long been an old curmudgeon wishing for some idyllic version of the past that never existed. A past where a young Leonard Bernstein was a super star, packages came in brown paper and string, a person had more than one steamer trunk for the Cunard crossing, and folks sat on porches drinking lemonade and eating cookies. Of course in my fantasy-world olden days people didn't smoke, gays were A-OK, and the Vietnam War never happened. But I digress (a lot)--back to my afternoon walk to the Metro. All I could think when this guy walked past with his iPod was how he was missing out on the birds, and the train clickty-clack, and the dog, and even the sound kids playing off in the distance. As much as I love my iPod, I don't want to be that disconnected from the world.


In a similar vein, as much as I love the Internet and would have a nearly impossible time functioning without it, I am sometimes nostalgic for a pre-Internet world. When my good friend Ron was in town recently we were talking about our mutual experience working in London right after college. We talked about how different our experiences abroad would have been if email and the Internet had been around. Back then, we would wait to see what mail might come from friends and family back home. Or on some rare occasions a transatlantic phone call might even be contemplated. As a 21-year old moving to another country to work, living with a bunch of young ex-pat wannabees from all over was an adventure in the new and unexpected. On good days it was exhilarating and fascinating on bad days feelings of isolation and homesickness took over. And all of it was experienced without the usual family and friends for support. I can't imagine how different that experience must be today for college students spending time abroad--at least in the developed world. With regular access to email, Skype, and websites for U.S. news outlets I wonder if today's student travellers even feel like they have left home.

I am not really sure what exactly I am trying to convey. Maybe I have reached that tipping point where I no longer envy the young. As I slide towards 40 maybe I am finally starting to become comfortable with my place on the great timeline of human experience. Or perhaps it is more likely that I am sliding to that far scarier place where one thinks that everything was better back when.