Last week– seven to ten days ago, if I’m being precise– a sweet elderly lady and what I can only assume was her grandson came into the store. Grandma spent some time looking around and purchased a single barstool from me. She was unusually happy about it, proclaiming it “perfect” for her needs. Her grandson, who was perhaps seventeen, did not say a single word during the entire time I was observing the two of them. In fact, he did not look up from his gaming device– a Game Boy Advance SP, I’m pretty sure, despite that system’s advanced age– a single time. He, in fact, shuffled a few feet behind her the entire time she was in the store, neither speaking, looking around, or interacting with anything. It was as if she had some sort of robot following her and not a human being. She never spoke to him either. He wouldn’t have heard her, I assume, as he also had big, beefy headphones on, which were attached to the system.
She came back yesterday to pick up her barstool, and this time had both her grandson and (again, I’m assuming) her daughter with her. Her grandson this time stared at his phone the entire time he was in the store, interacting with neither his mom nor his grandmother, and again he had his headphones on.
I went back and got her barstool out of the warehouse and brought it to the front of the store. “Want me to carry that out for you?” I asked, assuming that she would say no and that the grandson– or, at the very least, the daughter– would carry the stool rather than the elderly lady. She said she didn’t need me to and I had her sign her paperwork and then watched in no small amount of shock as the old lady picked up the barstool and left the store, her worthless progeny trailing along behind her. One of my warehouse guys was standing next to me at the time.
“I asked her if she wanted to carry it,” I said. “You heard me say that, right? I didn’t imagine it?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I kinda wanna smack that kid.”
“Maybe he’s autistic,” I said, and then wondered what the hell is going on that this kid being severely autistic– because I know plenty of kids with autism for whom “carry shit for your grandma” is still an ingrained behavior, so it’s got to be way down on the spectrum– is the best of the available outcomes.
A few minutes later, I had reason to get something from my car. And then helped the old lady put the barstool into the trunk of her car, as her daughter and grandson sat in the vehicle and waited for her to be done.
I don’t really have strong feelings about screen time, but I feel like I should have strong feelings about screen time, if that makes any sense. After dinner tonight I asked my wife if she had any recollection of what she might have been doing just after dinner when she was six. Her father would likely be watching TV, she decided, and she’d either be watching with him or playing, and her mom would be watching the dishes. So let’s call that one and a half people staring at a device. When I asked the question, she and I were still sitting at the dining table fiddling with our phones, and the boy was in the living room watching some godawful YouTube video where someone opens packages of something. If I hadn’t been staring at my phone, I’d likely have either had a book in my hand or the laptop I’m typing on right now in front of me. Or, since I’ve decided that the ridiculously named Horizon Zero Dawn isn’t violent enough to hide it from my son, maybe playing that.
We have all sorts of evenings where each of us is staring at his or her own device– well, the one the boy uses is mine, but you get the idea– or where we’re all watching the TV. That’s not what bugs me. What bugs me is that I really can’t think of what the hell else we might be doing.