Family road trips are a favorite pastime of growing up in California. All four windows rolled down while 97.7 KFOG radio station hummed over the speakers. My parents in the front seats and my sister and I in the back. We’d drive from Los Gatos to Big Sur or to Big Basin or as far as Crater Lake during school holidays.
The tradition was always the same. Dad carried our packed bags to the car while we piled in behind him. Mom made sure we went to the bathroom and had enough snacks to get us to our first stop. Then we started playing games: A My Name is Alice, Slug Bug (where you get to punch a sibling every time a VW bug is spotted), or tallying up the number of strangers who waved back when we flared our arms at them. My parents told us about the books they read as children, quizzed us on history, and repeated the story about the first night they met at the movie theater like we had never heard it before. With nowhere to go, we got to know each other in that time. We had no distractions except the mountains and the sky out of the window. Nothing to take us away.
Technology changed how we coexist.
Today, I often power down my devices an hour before bed and turn them back on upon arriving to the office around 9:30AM. I don’t really think I am missing out on information that can’t wait until then. That is to say I am considerably mindful of technology. But every time I travel home to California, to the backseat of our family Lexus, I pull out my iPhone and pop in my earbuds. The car ride for me is now just a vehicle to the destination; I am not required to be ‘present’. At least that’s what I tell myself when I want nothing more than to sink into my music and my thoughts. When we arrive to San Francisco or the restaurant for dinner or wherever we are traveling, I am back to the moment. But the time for conversation, for playful games and for boredom that leads to creativity is already lost. My device won. That hour will never return to me or live on in my memories.
I am sorry, Mom. I am sorry, Dad.
When I was 10 I had a pen pal in Minnesota. My mom found her online in a forum that connected cross-country students via snail mail. Every month, I’d spring from the couch when mom said something arrived in the mailbox addressed to me. She’d use a knife to slice the envelope open and pull out a short story from another 10-year-old girl. I don’t remember her name, the content, or how long we stayed in touch, but I remember the sentiment of our relationship that would long be lost in the immediacy of social media. Today, I would have found this girl on Snap and followed her stories and maybe her friends’ stories and comment like I knew her. There would be no curiosity, no updates. What could she have written me that I didn’t already know?
I miss the road trip days.
I heard there are middle and high school kids who refuse to repeat an outfit once it has been posted of them online. This must pain working—and working class—parents. In grade school, I wouldn’t leave my house without my father’s approval of what I was wearing because I trusted his opinion over anyone else’s. (In the few photos that surfaced, I regret this horribly). I later learned he liked whatever I liked, even if that meant a mustard yellow top, corduroy brown skirt, purple leg warmers and a sea blue headband, all at the same time. But I cycled these accessories through seasons and never worried that my outfit would be commemorated by visits to my Instagram page.
I am glad I had a childhood before social media.
I’ve been friends with the the same group of girlfriends for two decades. We went to different colleges, moved to different cities, entered different industries, and started our adult lives as successful business women, wives, lovers, cooks, creatives. We have also stayed in touch. It’s easy to find each other in the same places at the same time, like in our hometown over the holidays or at a wedding. But when I see them today after three months away, there is inherently less to catch up on. From Instagram and Facebook, I know where they traveled, if they were promoted at their job, if they are engaged. The Internet has shrunk time and space. Nothing is a secret for long. I lament the days when I could call my best friend 3,000 miles away and ask her: what’s new; what has changed; how do you feel; are you happy; are you sad; are you in love? These are the things I want to know: what we keep in our hearts that we don’t curate for the rest of the world. For our “friends.”
I am nostalgic for a time when friendship ≠ 1,000 followers.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons I don’t follow the man I’ve dated for a year on social media (and vice versa). I have no idea—nor interest, truthfully—in what he does online or what he “likes.” What I “like” is going out on a date or to dinner or to his house and not knowing what his feed says. Not leaving space for misinterpretation. What I “like” is showing up at his doorstop and asking what’s up, what did you do today and being genuinely curious to hear the answer. Unfortunately he doesn’t like letters, but maybe one day we’ll take a road trip together.
But you’ll have to follow me to find out.