Are we there yet? There’s an app for that.
I learned during a bus ride from New York City to Boston last weekend that “Are we there yet?” is officially a question of the past. It’s now extinct, like dinosaurs. And typewriters. And skinny jeans, in my dreams.
Consulting iPhones and iPads and other gizmos galore, kids no longer wonder whether we’re there yet. They fucking know. And they won’t shut up about it.
“7.9 miles … 7.8 miles … 7.7 miles … We could walk this!” a young boy sitting directly behind me, his hypnotic iPad in a vice grip, excitedly counted down for his mom as we chugged eastward on the Massachusetts Turnpike with about 20 minutes remaining of a four-plus hour, 215-mile ride.
Most people who aren’t as familiar with the Bible as I am might not know that kids have been torturing their parents by anxiously asking the antediluvian “Are we there yet?” ever since Adam and Eve carted off Cain and Abel for their first out-of-Eden excursion. They pulled over for a pit stop at an oasis called Trader Josiah’s, which was known throughout the land to offer more competitive prices on figs and nuts than rival Holy Foods, but the petulant pair’s patience already had expired. The brothers began grilling Adam and Eve with harping inquiries about their whereabouts, prompting the frazzled parents to turn a deaf ear, after terse but ultimately empty threats to “turn this camel around” went unheeded. (Genesis 6:66)
Fast-forwarding a lot of millenia, pint-sized backseat drivers now calculate real-time directions and anticipate every twist and turn of a road trip before it happens. They’re aware of gridlock and accidents in advance, and even second-guess your choice of routes. And instead of asking where we are or how far we have to go or where babies come from, they tell you.
“Six more miles, Mom!”
“Only 4.4 miles! So, like, 11 minutes!”
Imagine your GPS were voiced not by a calm yet confident computerized woman — my mom named hers Garmina — but by an antsy third-grader who has been trapped in a confined space for longer than the movie “The Ten Commandments.” And who’s up way past his bedtime. And whose dinner consisted of Coke and candy from vending machines somewhere in Connecticut. Siri? More like Suri Cruise.
“Only 10 minutes until we reach the station!”
Our technology has come so far that children use it to tell us how far we’ve come. When they are sent to their rooms, I wouldn’t be surprised if they google how to get there, comparing the three best routes before making an informed decision on how to reach their destination. “Sure, I usually just take the stairs,” a tween might snootily say to a younger sibling as his gadget guides him through a detour, “but traffic this time of day is a real bitch.”
Before apps came maps, but they were understood only by cartographers and Asians. And they made dads very angry. Apps have bridged the map gap for the rest of us. The late, great Etta James, who once was mocked for envisioning a world in which even American children embraced geography, was ahead of her time when she sang, “Atlas, my love has come along …”
“Two and a half miles!” said the now-spastic boy, tweaking like an addict in a mobile meth lab. His legs flailed as he began to bop in his seat, the electric sound of corduroy-on-corduroy charging forth from his thighs.
“Only 1 mile, which is about three minutes!”
For each of his public service announcements, I jammed ear buds deeper into my skull, jacked up the volume and tried to drown out the torment of not being quizzed on where we were, but rather repeatedly being reminded of where we weren’t. Which is just as annoying. Nature finds a way. You know how in “Jurassic Park” the all-female dinosaur clan still spawns by switching sex? Yeah. Like that.
“We’re getting off on a bridge? No, OK. We’re just stopping.”
“So close! Let’s just push the bus!”
“Mom, only four-tenths of a mile till we …”
“That’s nice, honey,” his mother mindlessly muttered for what seemed like the millionth time, striking the perennial parental balance passed down through the ages of validating while simultaneously tuning out a child.
Because the saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same” won’t go the way of the dodo anytime soon.
P.S. A reader emailed me about Chase Gordon, an amazing 14-year-old boy in Arkansas battling brain cancer. You can watch a video about him here, and send along well-wishes and prayers and kittens via his website or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for always being awesome, you guys.