A friend recently told me about a time, 25 or 30 years ago, when she took her kids out for pizza at a place that her husband would pass as he walked home from the commuter train. She figured he’d see their car there as he approached and would come in, and that’s exactly what happened: he arrived just about the same time the pizza did.
When she told me that, I imagined him smiling when he saw the car. I imagined the pleasant surprise of seeing it and realizing that his wife and kids were there, with a pizza in the oven for them all. The day was ending differently from how he’d expected, and it was nice.
I also thought that they’d do it differently today. They’d have mobile phones, and he’d get a phone call while he was on the train. “Hey, I’m taking the kids to the pizza place. Meet us there on your way home? OK, great, see you there.” Maybe he’d call them when the train arrived. “I’m walking. Order me a beer now, OK?”
It would have the advantage of not leaving things to chance. What would have happened, in 1980-ish, if he’d had something on his mind and not noticed the car? Or if the train had been delayed, or he’d gotten stuck at work and was on a later train than usual? Nowadays, we’re in communication much of the time, and our planning is more precise, more sure.
But they’d lose that delightful surprise. Seeing your family’s car at the pizza place isn’t the same as getting a call on your mobile; the latter dims the spark, dilutes things a bit.
Of course, they could still do it the old way, even today. The thing is that they probably wouldn’t, for exactly the reason of not risking the glitches. By smoothing out the wrinkles in these sorts of situations, we’ve taken something away, too. The technology has brought us a great deal, and I love it. It’s just that it’s not without its own small cost.