A dialogue between a manager at Food Country and a seventeen year old boy who has applied for a job.
Food Country Manager: Sorry, but based on the way your tests came back, I cannot offer you a job.
Kid: Why not? I couldn’t have failed the drug test.
FCM: Your drug test was fine, but your light scan came back hot.
Kid: My light scan?
FCM: The retina scan they did after you peed in the cup.
Kid: Yeah, what was that about?
FCM: A light scan measures screen exposure. Yours came back at a 73 and Food Country has a policy of not hiring anyone with a light scan reading over a 35.
Kid: What’s a 73? 73 what?
FCM: A 73 suggests that you view screens between 7 and 8 hours a day. That kind of screen dependency makes you a significant liability as an employee.
Kid: (confused) So, I “view screens”? What does that mean? Everyone views screens.
FCM: We’ve found that employees with significant screen dependencies simply get far less work done than employees with lower light scans. Four years ago, before Food Country instituted light scan tests for potential employees, analysts estimated the company lost between 240 and 280 million dollars a year in labor value to employees viewing screens on the clock. Of course, the higher your light scan number, the more likely you are to look at your phone on the clock.
Kid: This is absurd! How can this possibly be legal?
FCM: In the same way your average drug test is legal.
Kid: And how exactly are screens and drugs alike at all?
FCM: Screens are far more addictive than drugs. In a survey conducted last year among 112,000 Americans, only 55% of illegal drug users claimed to regularly come to work while under the influence of drugs. On the other hand, 100% of all smart phone users claimed they used their smart phones for non-work-related activities while on the clock.
Kid: The world more or less runs on phones and screens, though. The prevalence of screens is only going to increase. You can’t slow down progress.
FCM: How very 1987 of you.
Kid: What are you talking about? Everyone knows that phones and screens are the future.
FCM: The future for who?
Kid: For everyone.
FCM: Not really. Years ago, screens and automation were thought luxurious and sophisticated. The rich wanted the most technologically advanced, “futuristic” versions of every good and service they could find. In the 1980s, upper class Americans thought themselves cutting-edge when they added computers and gadgets into stores and classrooms. Back then, of course, screens were a symbol of wealth. But screens have become cheap. Now, screens are far more indicative of poverty than wealth. When I was a kid, every classroom came with a living, breathing teacher. Now, only expensive private schools have living, breathing teachers. The superintendents of progressive schools enticed good teachers into signing contracts simply by promising them they would not have to spend any time in increasingly dangerous classrooms. Most teachers decided to work remotely, from the safety of their homes, and then it became law they had to work remotely. As we both know, the only living, breathing adult in a public-school classroom nowadays is the bouncer who keeps order and makes sure students keep their earbuds in and their eyes on their tablets.
Kid: You can’t stop the inevitable march forward of progress, though.
FCM: What people consider “progress” changes, though. In the early part of the 20th century, plastic was considered quite fashionable and high school girls bragged to their friends about their lately-acquired “plasticine dressers” and “plasticine hope chests.” Wood was old-fashioned. Now, a plastic dresser is thought hopelessly tasteless. The same is true of vinyl records, which were considered passé in the 1980s when cassette tapes were popularized. Then cassette tapes were thought passé after CDs became common. Then CDs became passé and vinyl was popularized again— despite the fact that vinyl records are far more expensive, far less convenient, and far less “technologically advanced.” This is simply how fashion works. It’s fickle.
Kid: But it’s not like everything old comes back into fashion again. We’re not travelling by horse anymore. Everyone uses a car.
FCM: That is somewhat true. A thousand years ago, everyone owned horses, including the poor. In the early part of the twentieth century, after the development of the automobile, horses were thought old fashioned. However, in our own day owning a horse is quite expensive and the knowledge of how to care for a horse and ride a horse is a sign of being a blue blood.
Kid: Of being what?
FCM: Rich, well bred. A good horse costs more than the car you drive. Besides, horses last longer than cars.
Kid: No way. A horse can’t possible last as long as a car.
FCM: The average car on the road is less than twelve years old. But horses live between twenty-five and thirty years.
Kid: I hate to break it to you, old timer, but there was no golden age of dentistry. No one’s going back to drinking a pint of whiskey before having a tooth ripped from their gums. It’s drugs and high tech all the way.
FCM: That’s true, but it has nothing to do with the fact that phone junkies are a liability for the billion-dollar corporation where you want to work.
Kid: Where am I supposed to work?
FCM: I don’t know. Try to get a screen-related job. Although even that could be tough. Nobody fears the power of screen addiction quite like the purveyors of screen addiction. Did you never hear all those stories from the early 20s about how the CEOs of tech companies wouldn’t let their kids have phones?
FCM: Tim Cook, Bill Gates, all the billionaires at Facebook… none of them let their kids use social media.
Kid: I doubt that’s true. Why wouldn’t big tech CEOs let their kids have phones? You’ve got to stay connected.
FCM: The same reason why drug dealers don’t do drugs. They see what happens to people who do.
Kid: How long has the general public known that big tech CEOs don’t let their kids have phones?
FCM: The last twenty years.
Kid: Why didn’t that stop people from giving their kids phones?
FCM: Back in the day, having a tech-savvy kid was a point of pride. It was often viewed as a sign of maturity. It was thought very urbane and modern.
FCM: Because it was new and because it was just a little uncommon.
Kid: Is it not still considered urbane?
FCM: (laughing) Heavens, no. You don’t read parenting blogs, do you? Why would you? Today, handing a child a tablet or a phone is considered no less vulgar than giving a child a cigarette— that is, among the same kind of people who thought it fashionable thirty years ago.
Kid: So, it’s just a matter of fashion? Perhaps giving kids screens will become a fad again. Maybe in being addicted to screens, I’m actually ahead of my time.
FCM: Perhaps, although giving a child a cigarette has been considered abuse for quite some time now. I don’t think that’s going away. So far as wealth and privilege are concerned, the trend is so strongly away from tech, I don’t know that tech will ever recover a luxury image. High tech has become a symbol of slavery and oppression over the last twenty years— this is the way adults with money see the matter, anyway. High tech is a sign you’re being monitored, conditioned, manipulated, like some kind of little child or animal. Cash has made a huge comeback. The number of discount stores has decreased, but the number of stores aimed at the upper middle class has skyrocketed. After a long drought, cash is making a comeback. Real libraries— the kind with books— are reopening in affluent neighborhoods. But you’re seventeen and don’t have any money, so you don’t see any of this happening.
Kid: This is starting to sound like classism.
FCM: (shrugging) Yeah, maybe. I don’t know. How are they defining “classism” this week?
Kid: It’s when one class of people keeps another class down. It sounds to me like people who can afford screenless lives are oppressing people who can’t afford screenless lives.
FCM: You can’t afford a screenless life? Given that your screen addiction just cost you a lousy job, it seems more like you can’t afford anything except a screenless life.
Kid: For an old guy, that was a sick burn.
FCM: I’m 34, but thanks. Ditch your phone and your light scan number will probably be low enough for a job at this grocery store in just six months.
Kid: Probably not going to do that. I don’t actually need this job. I was just going to work for a few months so I could afford a new phone.
FCM: Gotcha. Well, good luck out there.