In a matter of 20 years the question “Are we there yet?” has been replaced by the most joyous of noises on a nine-hour car ride — pure, unadulterated silence.
Some may claim our plugged-in society is destroying our children. When an 8-year-old spends two hours staring at a little screen playing video games or watching movies, this somehow portends the end of our civilization as we know it.
The truth is somewhat more nuanced. When said 8-year-old, who in our case is Virginia, is sitting inside on a gorgeous day unable to lift her head from the eerie glow of her iPod, I want to smash it with a sledgehammer. That somehow she is now able to text on the device is a sure sign of the apocalypse.
But everything has a time and a place.
Our cousin married in June in Charlottesville, Va. Smart people fly to Richmond, Va., or Charlottesville, Va. Naive people who have blocked out those excruciatingly long trips from their youth think it is a great idea to drive. Our trip would take us first to Raleigh, N.C., to visit the wife’s grandmother, then to Colonial Williamsburg, Va. for a history lesson and finally to Charlottesville to see the extended family for a few days. This last part of the trip would be followed by a mind-numbing nine-hour drive back to Atlanta for the boy’s first day of Marist football camp.
The day before the trip, I laid out our arsenal of portable electronics, which was quite impressive, if I do say so myself. Each child has his or her own portable DVD player, gifts from Christmas past that never see the light of day unless during just such an emergency. Each has his or her own iPod Touch. Two children, four devices and me — making sure each is charged and has the prerequisite music, downloads and apps to keep them occupied for the duration.
Then there is my wife, Lori, and me. Lori travels fairly light. She has an iPad, and that is really all she needs in life at this point, and her cell phone. I have this computer, which is always within arm’s length, the phone, a GPS device and an iPod, because few things are greater than being able to listen to your own music while drowning out the din in the car.
We had a separate bag for all of the power cords and separate bags for the devices. So in addition to suitcases, toiletries and backpacks we also had a small digital empire that had to be charged nightly.
Hotels have very smartly anticipated this shift. On top of most desks are four outlets — charging stations, really. For the first four hours, we are charging phones, iPods, and computers, the other devices waiting their turns patiently.
If these devices run out of juice on the road, the universe essentially grinds to a halt. As we were approaching Williamsburg, for example, the GPS died. Overnight, it seems maps have become completely obsolete and very difficult to find. This resulted in much teeth-gnashing and kicking of things. We were so close to our destination but completely lost. Thankfully the iPhone guided us the rest of the way.
These electronic devices are merely one more distraction — one more reason not to gaze upon the cows in the field, not to count the license plates from different states, not to entice the truckers to blow their horns.
I can hear some of you exclaiming from the top of your lungs, “Books! You idiot, can’t your children just read?” This was my mother’s and father’s philosophy, and we do pack plenty of books. Much to my satisfaction, we find the boy Thornton often reading on these trips without prompting.
Invariably we arrived at each destination still liking each other. This is a sacrifice I am willing to make.
Thornton Kennedy is a fifth-generation Buckhead resident and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.