After breakfast we stop outside. I’m heading east towards town, George west to school. We hug briefly, father and son, our misty breath enveloping each other’s necks. Crisp air freezes our ears as we disentangle and pat ourselves; unsure what to do with our hands. We wave feebly and turn. He’s already plugging his headphones in. He’s here, but he’s gone.
I squint into the glare of a low winter sun, kicking through crumbling leaves that fizz like waves across pebbles. It’s quiet and early enough to hear rooks cawing through the plane trees and to feel the cold ache in my temples. I sense that autumnal, first frostiness, thrill to be alive in a world unbounded beneath an infinite sky.
George plods away, head down, eyes to phone screen, thumbs dancing:
‘Hey G-ster. U C FiFi ystrday?’
A stripped back steady drum beat syncopates his steps. Guitar and bass fill the space between his ears.
A paternal instinct stirs in me. I stride back, determined to show him this world he’s missing strapped in to the finite void of his phone screen and the limited horizons of other’s apps and music.
He’s alone but not alone. You can’t move in this Borough without nearly smacking into the oblivious, marching, road-death-defying, plugged-in; or blue-toothed monologists; or those luddites who still hold phones to ears. But to whose iTune are they all marching?
When Apple supremo Steve Jobs died last month, his very own Generation-i tried to crystallize his wisdom with a global re-tweet, an epitaph for his digital tombstone; words from an address he gave to Stanford University: ‘Stay foolish. Stay hungry.’
As if either true foolishness or hunger were a choice; as if anybody who attended Stanford, or could afford Jobs’ products, or even access tweets, could have ever known real hunger beyond day two of the Dukan Diet.
Alright, maybe Jobs was trying to say, “Keep thinking ‘out of the box’ and being ambitious”. But in reducing to sound bite, in much the same way the iPod mp3 technology reduced the infinite variation of analogue sound to a series of discrete compressed micro tones, something may have got lost in summarisation.
And then, perhaps Jobs really was exhorting his acolytes: be foolish and hungry – never considered, never satisfied. After all, if you’re peddling equipment which only survives through constant upgrading when previous versions work just as well, what you need is a customer base who are both: Hungry enough to always want the ‘next thing’, foolish enough to never ask, ‘why?’
Those four words are the tragedy of the shut-off Generation-i, not the triumph.
Desperate to share this natural world with George, I catch him and try to explain.
He looks around. ‘Reality?’ he shrugs, ‘yeah. Nice. This morning, not my choice.’
And I know he’s right. We can choose the nature of our journeys now, just as we would our destinations and, this morning, I’m happy: he’s not foolish, he’s not hungry.