I was in the middle of a class discussion with my sixth-graders recently when a “Bing!” from my pants pocket interrupted the proceedings.
“Welcome to the 21st century, Mr. Ed,” observed one of my students.
The sound of an iPhone signaling the arrival of yet another e-mail is as familiar to today’s kids as the hum of an old-timey pitch pipe was to me. All of my elementary school teachers used one, more to get the slackers to pay attention, not necessarily to sing in tune.
I’ve been dragged, for the most part, kicking and screaming into the technological age. I do love the magical powers of the digital video recorder, though, because if I want to watch the boob tube, I can do so by zooming through commercial interruptions. I’d convinced myself that it was more fun to watch zombies getting filleted on “The Walking Dead” — at my leisure — than surfing the Web on a cell phone.
And texting? Has modern life really gotten to the point that we’re too busy to communicate with our own voices?
But then I got my iPhone.
My first texts were purely utilitarian. I hunted and pecked my way to relay the message that my wife, Betty, had emerged from knee-replacement surgery unscathed. There, in a hospital waiting room, I became just another slave to technology, trapped in the glow of a mini computer screen.
Shortly thereafter, I decided to take a walk on the wild side. I texted my son, Mac, a college freshman, a quick “How’s it going?” A few minutes later he responded with, “Dad, at first I thought my phone broke, or that you had an evil twin out there. Welcome to the 21st century.”
That sentiment was texted to me over and over again, and I deserved it.
I’ve yet to master the double-thumb technique. I fear permanent paralysis, kind of like when adults told us kids never to cross our eyes, because they’d stay that way.
I even caught myself multitasking the other day, a skill I believed to be neurologically impossible for me to master. As I sat in my favorite chair watching a cable-news program, I grabbed my iPhone and did the one-finger flip through the digital pages of the Washington Post, getting the latest updates on my beloved Redskins. I now know it’s possible, in one sitting, to feel heavily sedated by all the fiscal cliff talk and get NFL playoff fever at the same time.
But back to texting. I think it’s — dare I say it — fun. Now I understand why my students would rather text each other than divide improper fractions. And because texting is writing, I’m more comfortable being my snarky self. For some reason, my words seem less cutting in cyberspace than when they’re the spoken variety.
Betty called me recently and left a voice message. Uh-oh, I hadn’t learned how to access those yet. I tapped the phone icon, but then I got lost. Just too many other things to tap on every corner of the screen. I wound up on a NASDAQ chart that looked frighteningly like the math section on the SAT. What to do?
I texted Betty, and she texted me back.
John Edmondson is a teacher in Hampstead.