Take Time to See the Roses

My wife and I recently took our two boys to a museum and aquarium about an hour’s drive from our town. On our way there as we wound through the lush green hills and farms of northwestern Illinois, enjoying the sights we had come to love and had grown so fond of, a car came whizzing up from behind. The impatient driver of the car, that was now dangerously close to our back bumper, did not hesitate to get around us when the next passing zone came. As the car passed I glanced over to see something that just made my heart sink. It was something so common place, but in the serene context of this country drive it was, in my mind, really out of place.

The driver was deeply engaged in a conversation on her cell phone while she managed to weave back into our lane without signaling. Her three young passengers were each paying close attention to their own smartphones as they no doubt texted, updated facebook profiles, watched videos or played video games. No one was paying any attention to one another or to the breathtaking scenery around them. What’s more, they had out of state plates, and I knew it couldn’t be that they were just so used to the drive that it no longer caught their attention. They were distracted and I was shocked.

It’s not like I hadn’t ever seen people so engaged in media before, but something about that brief scene made me sad. The beauty of the gentle rolling hills and valleys dotted with barns and old farm houses and the conversations that would come from such scenes were being missed as the digital age once again took the front seat.

I remember going on trips with my family when I was young. We always traveled by car and I got to see so much of the countryside. My siblings and I played games together like the license plate game, the alphabet game and many other traveling games. My dad would often ask us trivia questions that had something to do with where we were or what he had just seen on the side of the road. It was a great way to pass the time and it kept us from getting too fidgety on the longer trips. We had a lot of fun.

There were also times of quiet in the car. I would stare out the window and think about the changing landscapes and passing buildings with a mind full of wonder. To me the world grew bigger and bigger the more we traveled.

Back then there were no smartphones. There were no DVD players built into the headrests of the seats in front of us. There was a lot to see and a lot to take in. What’s most troubling to me is that “back then” wasn’t that long ago. Growing up during the transition into the digital age has allowed me to see both sides of the coin, and it’s sad to see how much more controlled by media we have become in such a short period of time.

This is certainly not just a problem with car trips either. I can think of dozens of times when media became the wedge between people and their environment. The old saying “take time to smell the roses” doesn’t have much meaning in a society where people don’t even see the roses as they pass by. Virtuality has veiled reality. We as a culture have become so involved with our devices and our individualized realms that we neglect some of the most important things in life. We disregard them because we don’t even see them anymore.

I wonder what I have missed out on over the years by being engaged in media. I guess I can never really know for sure. What I do know, however, is that when the car passed by us that day I was reminded of why I chose to unplug. I thought about how much has changed in my life since I took that step and how grateful I am now to see the world through a new set of eyes. Today, I wouldn’t trade the blessings that have come as a result of that decision for the world, let alone a game of Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds.