Every time the phone in our apartment rings, Buffy freaks out. Buffy is our one-year-old Mini-Australian Shepherd and, for reasons that we cannot quite figure out, she doesn’t like the telephone. Whenever it rings, she barks three times, then runs into the bedroom, looking over her shoulder as if the phone is going to start chasing her.
I’ve also noticed that Buffy doesn’t like it when Mary and I are working on our computers, which is often. If I’m writing at our coffee table, Buffy will position herself on the floor between my legs, then she’ll jump up and swat at the keyboard with her paws over and over as if to say, “Anyone can do that. This is exactly what you look like.”
It used to bother me that Buffy was so openly anti-technology. After all, I do work in the kid’s media industry, and I wondered if it was a good idea for me to have a dog who found screens to be about as interesting as walls? I mean, this is the age of apps, tweets and transmedia (a word that now means everything and nothing.)
If you are a regular reader, then you know that Buffy has become something of an Obi-Wan Kenobi to me, and she’s taught me many things about life, including, most recently, the importance of not over-valuing one’s possessions as they may get chewed up at any moment. So, as much as I wanted to dismiss Buffy’s Quaker-like rejection of all things technological, I had to consider the possibility that perhaps Buffy was again trying to teach me something.
Well, as it turns out, she was. Here is what happened:
Just like any other Sunday night, I was home with Mary in front of our flat screen TV watching The Real Housewives of Orange County, updating my Small Potatoes Facebook page, and tweeting to Andy Cohen at Bravo about whether Slade Smiley would make a good husband for Gretchen (“No!”). I had three screens going at once and I was connecting with the world on many levels. Or was I?
Buffy was observing me with a look in her eyes that clearly said, “Nothing you are doing right now would give you (or me) more pleasure than being outside.” Then she began to charge around the apartment wagging her little “nub” (mini-Aussies don’t have “tails”), and tossing socks into the air like graduation caps. There was no way around it, Buffy had made up her mind: We were all going to go outside.
Reluctantly, Mary and I switched off the TV, shut down our computers, and headed out with Buffy into the night. It’s spring in New York, and our neighborhood is particularly lovely this time of year. There is a gentle breeze that comes in off the Hudson River and the begonias and the honeysuckle are all in full bloom. Buffy pulled us along to her favorite place in the whole world, the “puppy park” (as we like to call the dog run), where many of her Battery Park City doggy friends were already having a great romp.
As we unlocked the first of the two gates, Buffy’s excitement was palpable. She looked at us as if to say, “See?! Now this, THIS, is what real life looks like!!”
And Buffy was right. We stayed at the puppy park for an hour or so, meeting new neighbors and swapping stories about chew toys and local veterinarians. Buffy chased the other dogs and was chased in return. We had disengaged from our screens, and engaged with our neighborhood, and there was no doubt which of the two was more enjoyable.
That night it became clear to me that no screen, no e-mail and certainly no tweet can ever replace even the most banal of real human (or animal) contact. “A screen is a screen is a screen.” Yes. But a screen will never be a puppy. A screen will never be a neighbor. And a screen will never be spring. This may not be news to you, but it was to me.