Travel back in time to Japan, the year 2000. Three of us, two social studies teachers and I, spent ten days there visiting middle and high schools, vocational schools, and government education departments in Tokyo, Kobe, and Osaka. At least that’s what we did during the day. Evenings we scoured the cities without our guides to experience another part of the culture — tiny cafes, department stores, bars, subways, and parts of town most tourists are unlikely to seek out.
One cultural phenomenon that struck me was the attachment of teens to their flip phones, which at the time didn’t seem nearly as ubiquitous in the U.S. The information I can find suggests they were relatively new in Japan when we were there; still, I left with the impression that every young person had one. No matter how dark the streets or how challenging the footing, kids stared at their screens, talked and texted while they moved through the city. My companions and I joked about how dates in Japan seemed to consist of a boy and girl sitting across a table in a restaurant drinking tea and staring at their phones, passing them back and forth, trading the occasional comment and grinning at their new toys.
Fast forward to 2014. My friend Jackie, the travel blogger, and I are sitting in a Starbucks in Kirkland, WA. She has a new Droid and I have an older model. How do you scan bar codes? she asked. “No idea,” I said. ” I tried to do it once and nothing happened.”
I told her I wanted to learn was how to reduce the size of a photo so I wasn’t sending three megabytes to a friend’s old laptop. Before long each of us was engrossed in our phones, ignoring the passing minutes, untroubled that our hour and a half of free parking would soon expire.
“We’re just like the teenagers I saw in Japan,” I said. “Only fourteen years behind. We got together today because we wouldn’t see each other for a while. Instead, we’re playing with our phones.”
While this confession reveals us to be among the latest of adopters, it also points out how people our age like to learn. Relaxing in a comfortable setting, enjoying the presence of a friend, and building expertise together through trial and error are much more enjoyable than having a sales clerk a fraction of our age sigh and roll his eyes after he’s heard us ask the same question twice.
While together, I figured out how to reduce the size of a photo and she found a link for bar code information. Two discoveries in one day was enough for both of us to feel successful. Think how much we’ll know in another fourteen years.