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There’s a fascinating world just beyond that phone screen

The mall is one of my least favorite places on earth. I dislike crowds. Mall teens in groups usually annoy me. And there’s a whole lot more merchandise under that one roof than I have money to buy. I just don’t see the point of it all.

Years ago, I took a page from the Senior Citizen Handbook, and I decided that I’d take my daily walk in the mall during inclement weather. I did that exactly once, and in just over an hour, I had spent nearly four hundred dollars and gotten no cardio exercise whatsoever (you can’t window shop with any sustained speed). I decided that very day, “never again.”

I share all this to admit that, against my better judgment, I went to the mall last week. I had to make a purchase that simply couldn’t wait for delivery, even at the speed of Amazon. I parked a respectable distance from the entrance (at least I could get some exercise out of the deal) and entered a store that had become my home-away-from-home when our youngest was in middle school. It’s like smelling that one thing that made you ill during pregnancy, isn’t it? The lighting. The canned music that whispers seductively and subliminally, “Buy more. Spend more. Give in to the peer pressure. The Joneses really do have more than you do.” A wave of nausea swept over me.

Making a bee-line to the counter and the perfectly-coiffed saleslady who stood behind it, something struck me out of the blue – an odd thought, indeed. I was the only person navigating the bright, well-merchandised aisles with my head up. Everyone around me walked in oblivion, eyes focused on their phones. Had I not been paying attention, I would have gotten bumped and jostled by those credit card-wielding robots powered by their “smart” phones. I stopped short to avoid a few people, sped up to avoid even more, and stopped dead in my tracks to accommodate one or two. I marveled, really, at what I was seeing.

Albert Einstein is credited with once having said, “I fear the day when technology overtakes our humanity. The world will inevitably be populated with a generation of idiots.” Now, did he really say that? Probably not, because he’s given credit for that quote mostly on the Internet. However, if he had said it, he would have been frighteningly correct, right on the money. The “smarter” our phones and other technology have become, the more unplugged (oh all right, the dumber) we have become. I fear my buddy Al was right if, in fact, he predicted that technology would dumb down the human race. Don’t believe me? Hit the mall.

When our children were younger, I worried that their obsession with their phones was impacting their ability to interact with one another, face-to-face. I feared that they would lose their human connection, lose their ability to empathize and feel for others. Turns out, those feared were well founded. Nearly every day, I speak with young people who are incapable of forming complete, intelligent sentences, of making eye contact, or of recalling information without Googling it on a phone the size of a credit card. And by the way, who in their right mind would have ever thought the word “Google” would be added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary – as both a noun and a verb? It’s a disgrace.

There’s a glimmer of hope, though, I’m happy to say. Our youngest child, who is 25 years old, began to push back against the phone/social media obsession a few years ago. As a member of the generation that’s grown up with social media, and therefore shared every thought that entered their minds on MySpace, then Facebook, then Twitter, and now SnapChat and who knows what else, one day, she simply decided to stop over-sharing. She was in college, I believe when we first saw this phenomenon. I believe a college professor had said something to her class that Mom had been saying all those years before: there’s a whole world out there, and it lies just beyond that 3” x 5” glowing handheld screen. When the professor said it, I guess that gave the idea credibility. Whatever the reason, I’m glad.

This generation about which I was so worried (many of them, anyway) have pushed back against social media to the extent that I think they live their lives with much less fear and intimidation than my generation has. The world is a much smaller place to them than it is to us; they have held it in their hands since they were children. Therefore, they travel to all four corners of the globe as if it were nothing. I love that. I can say without reservation that a comfortable familiarity with the world is one good thing that has come from the mind-blowing technology that has ruled their world.

Well, back to the mall. I hope I won’t have occasion to go back for months, if not years. But if I do, I will pay attention to my fellow mall-dwellers. Will they be walking around like zombies, eyes focused on their phones? Or will they be looking up, aware of their surroundings and other people? If they’re looking up, there may just be hope for the world, after all.

Albert here’s to hoping you were wrong.

Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published in 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her previous three books are written with Southern humor. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national true crime radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on, Barnes &, and at When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, writing, family and life in her beloved South.