It's that kid again, the one with the observant eyes. I've had a chance or two to chat with him in the interim. He is Amad, dressed in ordinary, low-profile garb for someone his age. No flashy bling or starched denim- just a regular dark gray hoodie, not baggy, and jeans that fit. He's coming home from school- it's late afternoon on the 4, several hours after the schools have let out. Absent-mindedly I wonder what he was doing hanging around for so long before going home.
"Hope it was a good day at school," I say.
I like to engage the young folk, to give them the example that yes, strangers can and do talk to each other. As a youngster, such opportunities can be strangely absent, particularly if you're not employed; you may spend years of adolescence talking only to peers and adults in environments you already know.
"It was alright," he responds.
"Kinda late to be gettin' outta school."
"Yeah. I stayed late to get my homework done."
"Oh, right on." My mind was in Parent Mode, automatically worrying he was up to no good. "That's a good idea. Get it out the way."
"Yeah, then I can jus' go home, don't have to worry about it."
"Don't have to worry about it, exactly. And it makes more sense, do school when you're at school, then go home forget about it. Like keepin' home life and work life separate."
"Plus it keeps me from procastinatin.' And it's easier to think about school when I'm there."
He's young, eleven or twelve tops, but his mellow and open demeanor suggests an intelligent humility in which you almost feel outmatched. I like feeling outmatched. It means I can learn something.
"And then maybe you don't have to carry all them heavy textbooks around," I'm saying.
"Oh we don't carry no textbooks anymore."
This is news to me. I'm incredulous. "Hang on. What?"
"Yeah, it's all digital now. You download it at the start o' the semester. Put it on your iPhone. They give us all iPads to use during class."
"I don't believe it. They give people iPads? Man, I musta carried twenty pounds a textbooks every day..."
I suppose I sound like my Grandmother once did, when she told me how she rode a wagon every morning to school. Amad and I marvel at each other, sharing amazement. They don't even turn in papers anymore, he continued. You just email your teacher. Compared to my experience it seems like unadulterated decadence...and a continuation of generational disconnects going all the way back to- well, you can imagine a Australopithicene father complaining to his son about everything he had to do before there were stone tools. To myself I wonder, what's normal to Amad? What will he tell his children? That he had to lug around those clunky iPhones every day, which weighed almost five backbreaking ounces?
"I wonder about cars and driving in future," I say.
"Man, the way things are going soon people won't even walk."
"Oh! Don't say it!"
"Man, in twenty years this job won't even exist."
"Oh, that hurts!"
"I'm a miss it though. I love it so much."
"Yeah, but you'll still need a bus driver for, for the, uh,"
"Yeah! That's the word I was gonna use. Interaction."
"I sure hope so,"
"'Cause people be wantin' the customer service,"
"The back and forth between real people,"
"Yeah, uh mean, you gotta have that."
"Man, I am happy to hear you say that. It is important."
It was clear he thought this was a crucial component of life. What was normal to him, I imagined, must be a world in which information and communications technology reigns supreme, a part of every action in life and a wonderful time-saving, streamlining- and alienating- buffer for all everyday activity. I was not quite correct.
Somehow, this boy understood that despite the wall-to-wall technological barrage he's growing up in, there is something undeniable about tactile, direct human interaction. The elemental straightforwardness of it. We humans possess a profound yearning to reach out and touch each other. The buried desires, dreams of validity and self-realization touched by the sound of a voice facing you, by the awakening glance of eye contact. Somehow it feels natural to keep that flickering flame alive.