It’s a great time to engage in people watching, because nobody is watching you. This is not a reference to data privacy and intrusion, I mean exactly what I say: watching people.
So I can scan the faces of the people on the train and they would be staring too hard at their phones to notice me. I don’t need to worry about a gangsterish “What are you looking at?’’ challenge. So I take in the way they dress, look at how many people wear shoes or sandals or slippers and what’s the latest fad in tee-shirts. I can look them up-and-down unabashedly.
They see nothing else and most also hear nothing else except what’s going through their ear plugs. It will take a big bang or physical movement to get them to look up. Because they are so busy staring at their phones, they also say nothing – unless they have to pick up a call. That’s normal I suppose because you board the train alone – and know no one else. But this exercise in cellphone absorption applies elsewhere too, whether at dinners or get-togethers. Whatever is in the phone is lot more interesting than a real, live person. We’d rather smile at a screen.
I wonder if people ever make “new’’ friends anymore. I can’t strike up a conversation with a stranger when I can’t even catch his/her eye. And it seems almost rude to speak up when everybody else is in a phone reverie. It’s so odd when you think that not so long ago, we’d be castigating people for being impolite to ignore the presence of others. Maybe we’re content with “virtual’’ friends because it is a relationship that requires no commitment and we wouldn’t want to see virtual friends too because, as we’ve been warned oft times, they could all be serial killers in real life.
I tell myself that there will be no “Girl on a train’’ moment, who catches sight of a murder while peering out the train window. I don’t even think there’s much of a “The Commuter’’ incident, where people who regularly board the same train at the same time form a sort of bond with each other. In other words, they become “friendly’’ if not friends. I find it ironic to hear announcements about reporting strange people and so forth to the train authorities when commuters are so inert about their surroundings.
Maybe we’re really shy people and take refuge in interacting with machines. I have to add that “older’’ people are quite different. They’re not on their phones and are amenable to some chit chat. Other “available’’ channels of communication: Tourists. Of course, we do not speak at the top of our voice and engage in a low monotone of banter, so as not to distract those busy people on their phones.
We make very little use of our five senses methinks. Even if we’re not in a speeding train or bus, we don’t notice if a big tree on our route has been suddenly chopped down or how a shop we pass by everyday has since changed hands. That’s because even while walking, we’re eyes-glued and ears-stucked onto some device. This is dangerous (serious) given the number of mobility devices which now fill our pavements.
Okay, now people will say that this is normal behavior in big cities… But this doesn’t mean we have to emulate them. I think about the current discussion on moving beyond grades and embracing creativity and innovation and I wonder how we are ever going get anywhere when we’re so bereft of curiosity and uninterested in our flesh-and-blood fellow men. We’d rather pore over big data than engage in small talk.
But I am just musing aloud. Don’t mind me. Get back to your phone