We arrived at a village in North Luzon, about a five hour drive from Manila. Luzon is divided into two sections: wide fertile plains, whose roads are jammed with incredible traffic of vehicles fitting every description: Jeepneys, tractors, motorcycle taxis, motorized bicycle taxis, thirty different shapes and sizes of buses, rickshaws, prison vehicles, combine harvesters, and pedestrians. - and mountains, where there is almost always silence and quiet on the roads until one reaches a village. The village I am describing was in the mountains, surrounded by rice terraces, emerald green, and quiet enough to hear the singing of birds and the threshing of rice over the occasional motor that came down the road. The first sign that all was not well came when we saw a truck pass by, loaded with tied down bales of some necessary grain, and several children on the top of the truck playing with their mobile phones, not speaking to each other but pressing digits on their phones in a hypnotic embrace.
We were tired and paid these children scant notice. We checked into a hostel in the middle of a rice-field, a five minute walk from the single major street, where the shops were all still open, late at night. In the lobby of the hostel, there was a single television and the owners children had hooked up a PS2 to it, and they were all busy fighting virtual fiends.
After we napped and took a shower, we walked down the streets of the village. A girl in her early teens was selling souvenirs and texting her friends on a Nokia. Through the window of the bar - the only one in the village - the bartenders children were sitting in a circle, each with their mobile phone, not playing with each other and not looking up. Everywhere we went, we saw parents with their children, the parents morosely minding the shop and the children all entranced by the pixels on their phones, not speaking to each other or to anyone at al.
Disheartened by this, we went to the park; a small square in the middle of the town. The park itself was almost empty. A few old people were playing some game on a table in the middle of the square, old enough to talk and joke with each other between rolls of the dice and sips of San Miguel. The only children in the park were sitting under trees, about four children under three trees, either playing or texting with their mobile phones.
Finally, we were unable to stand it any more. We approached one of the children and asked them what they were doing.
"I'm texting my friends", he said. In the distance, we could hear the frightening cries of predatory birds, circling the fields, looking for mice.
"Doesn't anyone here go and play with their friends?", we asked him. He looked at us blankly. "Well, sometimes I go to my friends house to play computer games," he said.
"I mean games in the air - like football, war, whatever kids play..." I asked, feeling both younger than this tech-addicted child, and very very old.
"Sometimes," he said, smiling with embarassment, and from the smile I knew that the answer meant no. I thanked him, and went back to my hotel.
The next day, we wandered deeper into the jungle - we wandered and got lost. Luckily, there were some children there, about five to eight years old, tramping through the jungle in an area so remote that my mobile had no coverage at all. For a few pesos each they guided us to the city, stopping to hunt snakes and wild insects on the way, knocking down a particularly vicious one - it's bite could kill, they told me, but kids sometimes exaggerate. The nine year old boy squinted one eye like a huntsman, wound back his arm like Castro would have when he was a baseball player, and knocked that insect down with an expert throw of a small, pointed rock.