Screen nation



(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

The other day, Aunt Ruth witnessed the world turning, turning. She could feel the motion beneath her feet and it made her a little dizzy. Spring in Sacramento was doing its full whammy. There was a mom, walking slow down the sidewalk late morning, two small blond children in tow. Heads angled upward, each pulling on her creased slacks and each pointing at the same thing off in the distance. Aunt Ruth couldn’t see what it was. Anyway, both kids—maybe the girl was 3 and the boy was 5—were palpably excited, but Mom was oblivious. She was deep into her iPhone, walking slow. The fuse was lit; the girl melted right there on the sidewalk.

Sure, parents have to ignore their children periodically. Sanity requires it. And kids have to grab their parents’ attention—it’s a lifelong angst, a rather large chapter in the human drama. But never before did Mom have a better place to disappear besides her own inattention, imagination, weariness, wotever. Now she has a screen; it follows her everywhere.

We are a screen nation; my, how Auntie Ruth loves her iPhone. That she blocks out the world all the time to be in its thrall, never mind. That Greenpeace ranks Apple ninth in their Guide to Greener Electronics (Nokia was No. 1), never mind. The USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism reports that “Apple faired [sic] worse than almost 30 other big name high tech companies … when it came to issues of transparency” on issues of pollution in China (this from the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs there); never mind that, too.

It’s no secret that an iPhone is filled with some nasty chemicals, or that, in 2010, 34 Chinese environmental organizations questioned the heavy metal pollution in a letter to Steve Jobs. No, never mind. Auntie Ruth wasn’t paying attention, really. She was into her iPhone.

Maybe Ruthie will download a green app; it’ll make her feel better. She has Seafood Watch, Zero Carbon, Pollution. Al Gore has taken his book Our Choice and built an app out of it. Rumor has it the app will revolutionize the future of books. And then there’s Good Guide—scan a barcode and the app tells you how green that grocery product is. The Glass of Water app helps you conserve gas as you drive.

What? Did you just say something to Auntie Ruth? Verbally? Really, was it all that important?