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I found myself wondering this morning what Edward Hopper, who was painting scenes of personal isolation and alienation more than a century ago, would think if he were around today as saw people “talking” to each other by tapping a screen on a smartphone.

For me, the smartphone is the perfect symbol of the slow, agonizing death of conversation. We don’t have to talk to anyone anymore; we just need to send a stream of sentence fragments through the ether and wait for a similar set of sentence fragments to come bouncing back. I’ve actually seen, more than once, groups of people at restaurant tables not talking to each other but, instead, silently pounding out messages on their little screens to people God knows where. It makes me wonder why they bothered to come out in the first place.

I imagine you could take any number of Hopper’s paintings, put smartphones in the hands of the people therein, and not really change the painting much at all. The technology wouldn’t create the distance between people, it would only make it a bit more tangible.

Cape Cod Evening (Edward Hopper, 1939)

Cape Cod Evening (Edward Hopper, 1939)

Take a good look at Cape Cod Evening, above. If you put a pair Iphone 5s in the hands of this couple, would you really widen the obvious gulf between them? I don’t think so. Do the same with his classic Nighthawks. Same result.

Take a look, too, at the dog; animated, aware, living the moment in both time and space. This is one reason why, if I were ever given the choice, I just might choose to live at least one lifetime as a dog.

I doubt Hopper, who would be celebrating his 129th birthday today if he were still among us, would be pleased by what he would see, but I’d bet that he’d notice it. The smartphone certainly didn’t put this chasm between us, but it certainly gave it, figuratively speaking, some weight.

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