THE LONG VIEW: A breakdown in commuting leads to a lift in communication

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Thanks to a slip of the timing belt, my older son is without a car. Bicycling through this season’s ice and snow to and from his college campus is admirable, and I have to believe, a profound incentive for saving money to buy a new ride.

Sometimes I chauffeur him to or from work, and must ask him to remove his ear buds so we can converse. I don't mind burning time and fuel so long as we can chat.

Thanks to a slip of the timing belt, my older son is without a car. Bicycling through this season’s ice and snow to and from his college campus is admirable, and I have to believe, a profound incentive for saving money to buy a new ride.

Sometimes I chauffeur him to or from work, and must ask him to remove his ear buds so we can converse. I don't mind burning time and fuel so long as we can chat.

However, like many of his peers, the Elder is tied to the outside world electronically. Even without music blasting in his ear holes, his eyes scan the phone's screen as his thumbs race over its texting keyboard.

Once the weather breaks, the populace of my college town will once again fill the sidewalks and byways. But I predict many of those students and townspeople will miss a lot of spring’s beauty. They will be too engrossed in their electronics to notice the season’s splendid change.

Witnessing the world put on a new cloak of green and hearing the birds reprise their song of life is a wonderful thing. What a shame to miss it.

Then again, humanity has been in the habit of missing more and more for many generations. The invention of electric light made it much tougher to gaze into the heavens, but good old television took our mind off of what we cannot see in the skies.

We don't interact with the neighbors much. Once home from too many hours on the job, we’ve no energy or time to work in the yard.  Too frequently we are too addled by the workday to do more than huddle inside our impressive home theaters. Besides, the weather is too hot/cold/damp/dry; best we languish in climate controlled comfort indoors.

Even within the house, modernity acts as a wall between the residents. The kids can each stream their own content to their own devices, just as Dad can watch his action film and Mom her favorites from the DVR storehouse.

Garrison Keillor once spoke about the losses that came with the advent of the dishwasher. The sink, he noted, was where countless truths were quietly shared. It was there someone mentioned an upcoming doctor's appointment, spilled news of a long-lost friend, or shared a worry held inside.

Somewhere amid the suds and dishtowels, a person could more easily reveal something, while another person performed the consummate human service of listening. Now you just load up the machine, press the button, and go back to your personal cocoon.

I wonder if it would be a revelation to ignore the siren song of nonstop entertainment and convenience, raise our eyes from the nearest glowing screen, open our ears, and really take note of where we are, who we are with, and what is going on.

If nothing else, my oldest son will be forced to socialize with me to and from work. Likely that will be another motivation for him to save money.

Pat Grimes, a former South Bay resident, writes from Ypsilanti, Mich. He can be reached at pgwriter@inbox.com.