OK – a quick heads-up: this is going to amuse some and alienate others. It all rather depends upon which side of fifty you fall.
I own a smart phone – I probably only use ten percent of its features but I do use it. I use a computer everyday at work and writing novels. I am not a Luddite by any means.
That out of the way: What the hell is so important in the e-world that almost every person walking along the street is head-down, finger clicking, smiling into their phone screen, completely oblivious to approaching cars, buses, or other pedestrians? And even worse are those who also feel the need to mask the entire real world by plugging themselves in their music whilst walking and clicking.
What are they afraid of out here? Actual human contact? Actual human noise?
Not only are they putting themselves in danger being so cut-off from everything that could potentially kill them, but also those around them who are constantly stepping aside to avoid them, or putting out a restraining hand before they commit unwitting suicide in front of an approaching bus.
I made a point of observing this behavior on a short trip to a city after I had been almost mowed down by several oblivious clickers. The usual rules of polite human interaction no longer apply, apparently, when one has the diversion and excuse of a hand-held device.
It gives you carte-blanc to bump into people without apologizing, make no eye contact with anyone, ever, and suddenly stop in the middle of the street without warning when something on the screen is so important or startling – probably a new video on youtube – that those behind you have to swerve to avoid a collision. Again – no apology necessary because total immersion in an e-world excuses you for all rudeness in this one.
Even more astonishing is when two such e-worlders bump into each other – the bemused look as sudden re-orientation takes over is almost gratifying. Their location invariably seems to come as a shock and I wonder just how many are actually where they thought they would be at the end of their walk. The sudden realization that there are others around them, that the world on the screen is not the real one, that the last ten minutes have passed without their knowledge, finally seems to register: for a moment, at least.
And then, real-world crisis over, an immediate return to the e-world, and the relief is almost palpable.
As I sat back and observed all of this whilst enjoying a coffee and the sun in my face, I wondered how this would all look to, say, Jane Austen; all this non-interaction, all this rudeness, all this unawareness. She would think us harried indeed, and unfriendly, and possibly on the verge of being robots – if she knew what they might be.Humans being controlled every minute of their lives by a machine no bigger than their hand. She would cringe at the idea that this machine could track your every move should you be so negligent to leave on the GPS; will wake you relentlessly every morning no matter how hard you try to silence it; will keep you connected to everything and everybody, including work, 24/7; will track your buying preferences and store your photos; will find you a new partner, restaurant, power company or game; and will have the ability to make its world so much more relevant and important than the one you actually live in that you can’t put it down even for a walk along the street. God forbid you leave it behind or lose it.
I guess my observations led to this question: Is that video, that email, that photo, that news item so important that it can’t wait ten minutes until you are sitting somewhere and out of harm’s way? Would your life be affected positively or negatively if you took some time away from all the ‘noise’ and enjoyed some ‘real-world’ time occasionally?
For those of us who are tired of being ignored, bumped into, gazed at unseeingly, relegated to being of the least importance, please try coming up for air occasionally; you might enjoy the break.