Like Alice through the looking glass, the real world is disappearing through our computer screens. Work, play, education, shopping, dating, banking, books, letters, and conversations are all vanishing around us; all shoved aside and replaced by their cold, spindly, digital avatars.
And because of the increasing scope and power of the digital world, we’re becoming conditioned to pay more attention to it than to what’s actually happening around us. Just try having a meaningful conversation with someone holding a smartphone. Or try sitting next to them at the movies. This also helps explain why so many of us are suddenly insane enough to text and drive.
This mass migration to the digital frontier is also widening the divide between those of us who pondered the mysteries of building blocks in our playpens and those who surfed the web in theirs. Millenials seem largely unaware that they live in Wonderland, and they appear to prefer it there. That’s why I was almost glad one sunny summer Sunday morning to discover I had a flat tire.
Have you noticed cars don’t break down as often as they used to? Their onboard computers do a much better job keeping things going than the brainless vacuum and gravity fed contraptions of the past. And for reasons probably related to automated manufacturing techniques and computer-aided design, flat tires are also a relative rarity.
As I stared down at the flat, I felt young again. I’d rolled through the 70s on retreads, and every time I was late or on a hot date I’d have a blowout. I got to where I could change one blindfolded. So, here at last was a chance to teach my millennial son one of the hallowed rituals of the pre-digitized world: we’d change a tire together.
He emerged from the house blinking in the analog daylight and in a hurry to reinsert himself back into the matrix. “Where’s the spare?” he asked. I had no idea. We eventually found it, cleverly hidden by the manufacturer underneath the car.
I’d been looking forward to showing him how to work a big old bumper jack, until I noticed the car had no bumper. We eventually found a teeny toy jack, cleverly hidden by the manufacturer behind a seat. But the dinky little crank that turned the teeny toy jack was nowhere to be found.
It was hot outside by now and the siren song of ESPN was calling me back to my recliner. “Where in the world are we going to find a little crank like that?” I whined. My son whipped out his smartphone and, after a few finger swipes, said, “It will be here Tuesday.” So much for my lesson plan.
Two days later, we jacked up the car and unscrewed the lug nuts, but the wheel wouldn’t come off the hub. And each time we yanked on it, the car rocked perilously on the teeny toy jack. Hot and frustrated, my son ran to the garage and came back with a mallet. He proceeded to maniacally whack away at the tire until the wheel broke loose and fell off. I looked at him and smiled proudly: If all the lights ever go out some crazy day, he’ll be fine.