As Paris reopens, I encounter more people from abroad. It’s refreshing for the most part, but tinged with a little dread: summer is here. Tourists are here, but hardly in the numbers of years past. Yes, I’m happy the pandemic has subsided. Still there is that sigh, that ennui that is so French: the interlude in which we residents had this little jewel box of a city to ourselves has concluded.
Part of this realization came the other day as I loitered near a newsstand. Two young Americans swirled a small carousel and fingered the postcards on offer. “Maybe this one…” said one girl. “Yeah, or you could just take a picture and send it on your phone,” said the other. “Yeah, I’ll do that.”
And away they went.
I watched them go, then waited for the traffic light to change. Then I did that usually frightening ‘calendar math’ and realized that the two young girls in question had never known a time when the internet did not exist. They had no first had experience of anything other than living in a digital age.
Maybe I had had this realization before, but now I realized it was an entire generation of young people. They would lose perhaps, as was noted by a character in ‘Inherit The Wind’, the charm of distance as technology continues to bring us closer and connects us all, whether we want to be connected or not. So accustomed to the instantaneous, they might never consider the rushing bloom of joy that fills a heart when an unexpected piece of mail arrives from a foreign shore.
As they fingered those postcards with calculation–weighing what would be more convenient?–they missed the possibilities. What would someone far away think and feel as they fingered a stamped, worn, but colorful card with a handwritten note about Paris? Rather than having a keepsake to tape onto their mirror, they would instead have another photo on their phone. Oh joy.
I grew up in a far more tangible and deliberate time. Things, of course, were written on paper and mailed using the postal service. Telephones sat on tables or desks. I remember being suspicious when cordless models were offered, thinking, my god, people will be just walking all over the house having a conversation on the phone. It will be chaos. How prescient I was.
I know that Aristotle had similar laments, certain as he was that the younger generation was idiotic and incompetent, and that the entire world was going to hell in a hand basket. Every generation thinks that.
I don’t go that far. I’m optimistic, but I am wary and concerned about some things: how do we make Old Money fundamentals stick and stay in a cut and paste/cancel and delete world? I am not the first thinker to worry about the fluid, transient, impersonal, and impermanent nature of technology. Its characteristics cannot be absorbed by people without influencing people: convenience corrupts.
Can reading an ebook about Core Values on your electronic device still deliver the enduring impact required to change lives and maintain standards?
Or are we required to return to formats and forums that are more traditional? More brick and mortar? More person to person?
As I think about these things, and as the world opens up, I feel less certain and more driven to reach more people.
I’m just not sure how I’m going to do it.