July 22, 2016

Hope for the Upright Human

Finding connection in a mobile world.

At some point in the near future, humans will walk around in a permanently hunched over manner.

I have come to this conclusion in just the last week, during which time my wife and I were hosting our 16-year old niece, Anna, who hails from Savannah, Georgia. She comes out to “Hollywood” (we live in Ojai, but Hollywood sounds so much hipper) every summer to stay with us and partake of the glamorous life. And I guess, relatively speaking, it is pretty glamorous. Fabulous weather, golden sandy beaches, perfect tans, and yes, movie stars… loads of movie stars.

Every time Anna has visited, wherever we go, she has met a movie star, whether at the Ojai Valley Inn sipping tea (Anthony Hopkins), or dining at the Polo Lounge (Justin Bateman) or eating pizza at Jimmy’s Pub (some TV star, can’t remember his name, but she was pretty excited to meet him). And I mean, MET, not just seen. She has chatted with all of these stars and had her picture taken with them. She is basically just too cute to resist, and her aunt, my wife, is too. They tend to team up on these people and, the next thing I know, I’m sitting alone, drinking cold coffee under an umbrella, while they’re in free-flow discussion that can last for 45 minutes.

At the same time, despite her charming ways, I noticed on this last visit that Anna spent much of her time hunched over, in that ready position that one takes when one is fully engaged in some interactive game (Pokemon Go) on one’s smartphone. In fact, other than chatting up Sir Hopkins, I think she spent virtually all of her waking moments in this rather primal position, eyes focused, ready to spring on whatever she is viewing in that tiny phone monitor. Now, last summer I had noticed a bit of this going on, but during this visit it was in full bloom. And much of it seemed secretive, for if I came into a room and she was locked in on her phone, she would leave the room silently, which impressed me no end because she managed it without ever looking up or taking her gaze from the screen.

This went on for the entire week, until the last night before her flight back to Savannah. It was after dinner and Anna and I found ourselves sitting together in the living room, by ourselves, for just a moment. There she was, head down, neck hunched, phone-focused, in a world far different from the one I was in just two feet from her. As I fumbled for something to say, I suddenly blurted out, “Hey, I heard a really good song on the radio. Maybe you know it. It was by Justin Bieber, and some of the lyrics were something like ‘My momma don’t like you’.”

Her head lifted up from the phone, she looked at me with eyes anew and something hit her. “‘Love Yourself.’ How do you know that song? How do you even know Justin Bieber?”

Ignoring that crack, I reached behind my couch and opened up the case of my Taylor guitar and pulled it out. I looked straight into those shiny new eyes of hers and said “You sing and I’ll play.” And that’s what we did. She’s a wonderful singer – she knew every line while I winged it – and we sounded pretty darn good. Most kids would not have taken me up on this but Anna, while being a tad shy, loves to sing. And she loves Justin Bieber. And I love that song.

So, we found each other in that moment. Fifty years separated our ages, but that song, and the magic of communal music, connected us. While she sang, her posture was perfect.

Maybe there’s hope for the upright human after all.


  1. Hortensia Chu

    Hello Bob!
    I enjoyed your story, thoroughly. I often feel the same way, looking around at all these people absorbed by their small screens. Even on my walks, I see them and marvel at how they don’t walk onto trees. So glad you and Anna had this magical time. You’ve been so modest about your talents, as a writer and a musician, besides everything else you do! Now I know.

    Thanks so much for giving me hope. Love to you and Suzie.

  2. Brandy Mussman

    Music IS hope. We just need to be sure to teach our kids to sing at some point before their eyeballs are surgically attached to their phone screens…

    Great story!

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