After considerable observational research, I have decided there are three types of chronic sidewalk inhabitants. One is the type who sees and enjoys their environment. They will stop and discuss the flowers, shrubs and critters. Visiting with neighbors is given something of a priority. These are generally a pleasant sort of folk. Their walk is an exercise in mental health.
Then there is the athlete. Clad in runners gear, head down and sweat pouring, trying to beat back father time, they attack the sidewalks. They will throw a quick glance at their Fitbit or will pause and take a drink from one of their side holsters. It doesn‚t look like they are having much fun. Then there is the distracted walker. They say they are embracing the newest apparatus for communicating. I display my Scottish shrug and speculate about their paraphernalia. Technical walkers. I‚m not suggesting that their gait has a repetitive rhythmic component to it, it doesn‚t. To the contrary their path tends to be rather irregular. They are prone to unexpected jaw-jarring steps from the curb, to inexpertly wondering off line into the grass especially when passing over driveways. I‚m always amazed they don‚t walk square into a utility pole. What has them so distracted? Their cell phone. Be it ear buds or another of communication technology‚s newest flowers, they are always talking to someone.
Now, it has been suggested that this distracted walker group in our neighborhood is predominately female. Now, I‚m not touching that conclusion with a ten-foot pole. Then someone said, “Well, you can tell they are gossiping.” The pole with which I am unwillingly to touch this topic just extended to 20 feet.
I will say this connected group is not limited to the sidewalks of our community. I am willing to wager that everyone has had the experience of shopping in the store, believing a fellow shopper is talking to you and answering them only to find they are talking to someone else on their hands-free device. Remember your weird, involuntary response trying to avoid appearing foolish. I do. With the cooler weather, I retreated to my back porch. I pour my coke over the ice and watch the fizz rise, a personal Rorschach Test. As I settled back into my green Adirondack chair, I recalled a favorite line from Inherit the Wind. An observation on the price of progress. In Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee‚s play, the defense attorney Henry Drummond says, “Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there‚s a man who sits behind a counter and says, “Alright you can have a telephone but you lose the right to privacy and the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder puff or your petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.” I find so many kinds of wisdom in that play. Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response. – Arthur Schlesinger Hal McBride writes a column, Just Thinkin‚, published each week.