The World Is Your Living Room, Baby Face

ES, I'VE reached that critical juncture in life where I can remember when things were distinctly different. I also sometimes pine for them in their previous state, complain openly about their being changed for the worse, and get eye rolls from much younger people, whom I refer to generically as "Baby Face." Those eye rolls, by the way, provide an excellent indication of how this sort of maudlin reminiscing is going over.

"Listen, Baby Face," I say, undeterred by sounding exactly like my mother did when I was younger, "I was playing records—we called them 'records' back then, not 'vinyl'—before you were BORN!" Or, "Let me tell you something, Baby Face, everything you're listening to now is derivative of The Beatles, PERIOD! It's either Early Beatles, Psychedelic Beatles, or White Album Beatles—no exceptions!!"

Major Example of New World Versus Old World: cell phones. There is no going back, and involuntarily, by sheer passage of years, I have become a living link to a civilization before cell phones. This was a simpler time, Baby Face, a time when public space, scented with lilacs wafted on soft breezes (I never exaggerate), was populated with smiling people sitting quietly on benches. They were smiling because each was reading a book. And each could concentrate on the words in the book because no one was sitting nearby, talking as loudly and as freely as you would in the privacy of your own living room, exhorting something like:

" . . . yeah. Yeah, I know. I know!! So like, what'd he say? What? What, you just cut out. You—ohmygod. Oh. My. GOD. Well, so what're you gonna . . . ? Oh, ok. Ok. Well, yeah, I know! I mean, what the hell!! I mean what is he—Or, yeah, I know or —Yeah! Yeah!! Ok. Ok. Later. Ok, later. Ok. Okbye."

Jane Austen cannot stand up to this.

It's not just benches, it's buses, too. I'll have you know, Baby Face, that I read book after book on the bus, once upon a time. I read French Lieutenant's Woman entirely on commutes to and from work. It would have been impossible to concentrate on a novel that toggles back and forth between the present and the past had there been a guy behind me making energetic sales calls on his cell. John Fowles' description of his tortured heroine, standing lonely and windblown on a sea wall pummeled by wild surf, might have lost its narrative power had someone been shouting "YOU GOT IT!" every few seconds.

One more thing. According to a friend of mine who recently had occasion to walk through the campus of one of our city universities, students not only look the age of "fetuses," as he put it, but most are also talking on a cell phone between classes instead of talking to each other.

I take it that few simply walk down the mall just thinking deep thoughts anymore, or even shallow ones. And maybe there is precious little lying quietly on the grass on a warm day, eyes closed or just blankly staring into a blue sky, while you listen to ambient sounds, or eavesdrop on two-way conversations. Sociologically speaking, Baby Face, does having no cell phone in use indicate a low standing in the social pecking order? Does it indicate dorkiness of clinical proportions?

Then there's the Baby Boomer's reason for not using a cell phone in public, notwithstanding our Lord's-Prayer-like reluctance to disturb others as we have been disturbed. The thing is, some of us own cell phones so old that we risk the danger of a fashion-forward, cell phone-wielding fetus pointing and screeching at us like those extremely unpleasant aliens in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Ohmygod, that would SO not make my day.