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Donna Highfill Headshot

Why I Prefer The Real World To The Digital World

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The other day I saw two teenage girls sitting on a park bench, staring at their phones. A small dog was sitting in front of them wagging his tail, desperately trying to get their attention.

Still fixated on their phones, one of the girls started smiling and handed her phone to her friend. She said, "Is that the cutest dog you've ever seen?" At that exact moment, their little mutt looked over at me as if to say, "And what am I, chopped liver?"

The phone world got their attention. The real dog didn't.

This morning I walked into Starbucks and saw an entire family sitting at a table, sipping on coffee, which was a little alarming since two of the family members looked like they were under the age of nine. All of them were staring at their phones, except Grandma, who was staring off into space with cloudy eyes. Nobody was laughing, or telling stories, or interacting.

The observation disturbed me, so I forced my husband into sharing an interesting story so we could laugh and show them the importance of interacting in the three-dimensional world. As my husband stumbled, trying to come up with something to entertain us both, a woman literally backed into me, ass to face. because she was staring at her phone and was oblivious to her surroundings. I've heard the term "ass face," but I've never experienced it. It isn't pleasant.

I'm not going to lecture everyone about technology and how it's ruining the world, because I believe it is behavior that makes or breaks the utilization of a new tool. And I think we've proven as far back as the discovery of fire that we can use innovations for good or evil. I've sat around a campfire on a cold night and seen the good. I've been forced to cook on a gas stove and have witnessed the evil.

So, let's assume that technology is neither good nor bad. It simply is. But our fascination with things on a flat screen when we have the real thing right in front of us is disconcerting. Because the real, 3-D people aren't constantly clever. Our houses aren't all white like those posted in Pinterest. That white couch lasts about 14 seconds in the real world of children and pets. Our cakes are rarely picture-worthy, although mine could be part of the Good Housekeeping "What Were You Thinking" series.

I believe we are falling in love with a convenience and perfection afforded only through technology. I was watching a little league baseball game and realized that I missed a good play while talking to the person next to me. I immediately yearned for a replay, and was alarmed when I realized it didn't exist in the real world. I have stood in front of annoying real-life people, pressing my thumb into my palm hoping that I could somehow advance the channel.

Comparing our real world to the screen world is going to set up a competition that the real world will never win. When a wife goes through menopause, the husband is going to look at his screen and see Cindy Crawford and Jane Seymour, still stick-thin and sitting in all white pants with nary a bad mood. As his real wife spits venomous, inexplicable accusations about how he left his shoes in the middle of the bedroom floor causing her to trip in the middle of the night, the husband will gaze at his device and yearn for Cindy and Jane. Because they are skinny and happy and spend their menopausal years creating open-heart necklaces.

In the real world, if we covered our naked bodies in blue paint and ran through a jungle, James Cameron would NOT follow us with a camera. Most of us would simply scare the squirrels and end up with poison oak in unfortunate areas.

I even believe animals are feeling the pressure between daily life and YouTube life. Go to the zoo, and you'll find people standing in front of the gorilla display, staring at their phones, searching for a gorilla who does sign language or is saving a small boy who's fallen into his habitat. The actual gorilla, who is simply throwing his feces at the crowd, is disappointing.

Lions are expected to jump up and hug you around the neck like the one did in my favorite YouTube video -- you know, the one where that lady saved him and seven years later she banged on his cage and he jumped up and hugged her. I pity the fool who confuses reality with screen life and tries to lean into the cage of any ordinary lion to hug it out.

Our lives are now in limbo between imagination and the real world, and I'm not totally sure the real world is going to hold up. That old high school boyfriend on Facebook lives in our memories, and will always be a little more interesting than the man you love who is farting in the kitchen.

We have to remember that the real world is something we can be a part of, flaws and all. We might not have constantly clever quips coming out of our mouths, but we are there holding each other's real hands when a crisis occurs. And we might not be airbrushed, but we jog when we want to eat, and we pay for new haircuts and we try to look nice for those we love.

Maybe we should just realize that real life involves all the flaws that make us laugh and all the love that makes life worth living. And that man farting in our kitchen might not always compete with our high school fantasies, but he is our very best friend and he's loved us when we've spewed words like Linda Blair during our worst menopausal moments ever.

And that gives the real world a tiny edge in my book.

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