Entering the zombie apocalypse
The Prada family jam their skis into the rack and squeeze into the Silver Queen Gondola. I’m a single, and the smiling lift operator points me to their bucket.
As soon as they plop down on the frosty benches, all hands produce cellphones — as if prestidigitated out of thin air. All eyes are focused on screens, and all thoughts flee to other places, other people, other activities.
The Prada brand speaks of the latest fashions. The cellphones speak of disconnecting from the now and linking to God knows what. The bucket doors clatter shut, and off we go. I am suddenly invisible, a non-presence caught up in the zombie apocalypse.
I was warned about this apocalypse two weeks ago during my son’s graduation from Prescott College in Arizona. An undergrad named Aysha explained it all in her baccalaureate presentation.
“We have become an unconscious society no longer able to understand or come up with solutions to the environmental problems we face,” she said. Her PowerPoint showed crowds of people with cellphones pressed to their ears, simultaneously tuned in and dialed out.
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The people in the gondola personify the zombie apocalypse. They communicate with one another through the intermediary of their cellular devices. They aren’t actually texting one another, but are simply taking cues from their phones. They sit together, but they are worlds apart.
“Chelsea, will bring your blue sport jacket when she flies out?” says the mother while scrolling an email.
“I guess that’s what nannies are for,” quips the son while tapping keys on his smartphone.
“Then I want my gray cashmere turtleneck,” says the daughter, surveying a string of text messages. “Have her bring it, Mom.”
“Do you really need it?” asks the mom, not raising her eyes from her device.
“If he gets his jacket, then I get my turtleneck!” the daughter smarts off while pecking out a message to a friend.
“He needs his jacket for Christmas dinner,” the mom says in a stiff tone. “You don’t need your turtleneck.”
“I do, too!” the daughter says. Now there is enough emotion to cause her to raise her eyes and actually look at her mother.
“You do not!” the mom says, her eyes blazing back at her daughter.
“Enough, already!” snaps the father, taking his eyes off his device long enough to issue a meaningful glare at the daughter and mother. “Let’s just chill, OK? This is vacation, you know.”
All eyes zip back to the tiny, glowing screens. All minds are far from the mountains, far from one another. Meanwhile, the gondola swings to a halt as storm winds buffet the bucking bucket with blustering bravado.
I sit in lonely silence, hearing the wailing wind and the soft tapping of keys. A minute goes by. The father suddenly glances up. “Hey, are we stopped?”
“Patty and Ed are flying in Christmas Day,” interjects the oblivious wife.
“What time?” asks the father.
“Good. They can still make it for dinner.”
He speed dials and waits for an answer. “Joan — Bob.” He nods, “Yeah, we’re on the lift.” He tries to gaze through the frost on the windows. “Yeah, it’s snowing. Look, forward that report to me here, OK? Sure.Right. Same to you.” He clicks off.
“Patty and Ed are gonna be late,” forecasts the know-it-all son, scrolling over a weather site.
“Why?” the mother asks, squinting at another email.
“Storm coming Christmas Day.”
“Hmmm,” the detached father says, deep into a financial Web page.
We dock at the top with a clank and a jerk. Phones disappear into pockets, helmets are clipped under chins, and gloves and mittens are slipped on. The doors pop open, and we step into the growing storm.
“Who’s hungry?” asks the dad, and they file into the Sundeck with Pavlovian precision.
In the zombie apocalypse, cellphones, iPads, iPods, earbuds — all are within easy reach by quick-draw artists who scroll their way through life, who squint at magic screens, who plumb the depths of existence through technological pathways and digital windows, who live in multiple worlds floating through the void.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
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Well, for better or worse, another summer in the pandemic is over.