Spring has come at long last to the Great American Midwest. The days are beautiful, breezes sunny and mild. Birds sing from every tree, vying for coveted nesting places, chasing one another joyously through the air. Down in the area I call Cypress Hollow, where I turn around on my morning run to head back home, two ducks have paired up. I watch eagerly, hopefully, for the appearance of their ducklings. Nobody can talk about anything except the weather. Okay, this being St. Louis, the weather and baseball—but then the two are closely tied to one another.
Here’s a thing I want to talk about. I am a librarian. Librarians, traditionally, have had a conflicted relationship with cell phones. We oversee places that are much better when they are quiet. Yes, we have long despised the stereotype of the shushing librarian, but the fact is, if we do not shush noisy people, other people will usually approach the desk to demand why not. This goes doubly for people using cell phones in libraries. Everyone rude enough to use a cell phone in a library believes they are keeping their conversation quiet, but there is simply no such thing as a quiet cell phone conversation. They are all, always and forever, disruptive to the general ambience, especially in a public library reading room, where ambience is our most precious commodity.
All this is by way of saying that I dislike the whole cell phone culture. It was a long time before I was forced to get one. I use mine regularly now, but not so regularly that I am seen walking about on public streets with the thing stuck in my ear, or my eyes glued to the screen, watching god knows what. I once said, and still believe, that there is only the thinnest line separating people who walk around talking on cell phones all the time and people who walk around talking to themselves.
So on a beautiful spring morning, when I am walking into the grocery store for something, and I pass a teenaged boy staring at his phone as if the ultimate answer were displayed there, I have the urge to shake him and say, ‘Look up! Listen! The sky is blue, the birds are singing, daffodils and tulips are blooming all around you.’ I don’t like to be too judgmental, the lad is wearing the uniform that indicates he works at the store, and is probably on a break. Maybe this is the only time he has in his busy morning to see if he has any messages. But somehow I doubt it.
I am troubled by young people growing ever more tied to their tiny, demanding devices. There are studies coming out all the time indicating that cell phone culture is detrimental to health, to attention span, to ability to perform well in school, and on and on. I was talking last night to a man who teaches art classes at a community college: he tries to get students to stay off their phones during class, but finds that they don’t because they can’t! They are truly addicted. My problem is that young people spend too much time focused on their phones rather than the nature around them.
Of course one of my major gripes with modern society is that we don’t spend enough time outdoors, we don’t cherish nature, we don’t watch the seasons come and go. But I find the problem growing worse with young people. How are they going to worry about whether earth’s climate is changing, and seek solutions to the problem, if they don’t even know what the climate is like now? But the problem could be even more pressing.
My friend asked me this morning about the meaning of ‘spring fever.’ Is it something to do with allergies? No, I explained, it is an expression indicating a longing for love and romance brought about by the warmer weather. Like in the Elvis Presley song ‘Spring Fever,’ a terrible song from the crummy movie ‘Girl Happy,’ with the wonderful lyrics:
The blossoms on the trees
Look at the honeybees . . .
Get up, get up, love is everywhere.
Love in springtime has been a motif of human existence since before we were recognizably human. Courtship and mating find their primetime when the sun grows warm and the days grow longer. But what will happen when young people no longer notice this? Can the species endure? There is cause for hope: there are always hormones, the other great fuse of courtship, and I have not read any reports noting a decline in them.
Someone should create an app that tells cell phone users when it is the first day of each season, maybe plays an excerpt from Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ and provides a list of things that are traditionally done in that season. I’d download that, even I sometimes get so busy that I miss the first day of spring or summer. Of course, I’d have to ask a young person how to download an app . . .