All my work requires me to be at a computer with internet, and I enjoy watching The Office for the eighth time as much as anyone, but the great bulk of my life had nothing like this level of screen access. I didn’t have a reliable home internet connection until college (in high school I walked to the library or used a rotation of AOL free trial CDs). We never had cable or good network TV reception, though I was a loyal video store client. Yet even compared to my peers who did have cable, gaming consoles, and functional internet service, the ubiquity of screens today is difficult to fathom. You could take a Gameboy to the playground or, if you were really lucky, a portable DVD player on a long car ride. Now, phones and tablets bring unlimited entertainment everywhere all the time.
I didn’t really understand the situation until I was at a potluck a few years ago with a mix of strangers and friends. There was a woman there whom I did not know, and she had her 1-year-old daughter with her. This little girl was bright, charming, and on a single-minded mission to get everyone’s phones. She’d grab a phone out of your hand and start scrolling, opening apps, looking for a game to play. She knew precisely what she was doing, and she did not want to do anything else. Her facility with the phones was impressive — and horrifying.