Monday, 12 May 2014

Day 12: The uncomfortable silence

I t was the silence that woke him up. As he opened his eyes, there was a brief moment of confusion before he figured out what was out of place. It was the uncomfortable silence. That and the cloying sticky dampness of the humid tube carriage. He'd fallen asleep on the tube.

The train had stopped between stations but having been asleep for a while, he couldn't say exactly where. He knew they'd gone past Paddington, as all the travellers with suitcases were gone, yet they were still underground, so not as far as Queens Park. Which was a good thing because that meant he hadn't missed his stop. Denis-Jose found himself falling asleep on the tube more and more frequently these days.

Despite the decrease in passengers the train was still fairly full. And, of course, silent. There was at least 50 people in the compartment and not a single person was speaking. All you could hear, above the strange electro-mechanical thrumming tick of the undercarriage, while it waited to continue on its way, was the very faint scratchy sound of poor quality headphones, leaking their wearers dirty musical secrets out to the rest of the world. That and the occasional rustle of a page turning. The uncomfortable silence.

Nearly everyone was looking at either a phone or a tablet. A few people were reading one of the free papers. With the exception of himself, no one was looking up or around at anyone else. "I wonder if anyone has even realised we've stopped?", he thought to himself.

Sitting directly opposite, a teenager in an ill-fitting suit looked up at him. Almost as if he was telepathic. There was a very brief moment of eye contact. There was a flash of annoyance on the young man's face as if he realised he was being scrutinised. And then he looked back down at his phone.

And then the train started moving again. No one seemed any the wiser. No one seemed bothered by the delay. There wasn't an announcement. There wasn't an explanation of any kind. "Of course not", Denis though as he shut his eyes again and settled in for a two more stops worth of sleep. "The driver was probably using the opportunity to read his messages".

* * *

Recently I've found myself wondering whether we've been duped into accepting a bland, dystopian future, which will eventually lead to a civilisation like the one portrayed in the Pixar movie Wall-E. If you stand outside any train station or at any bus stop and watch what people do when they get out of the bus or leave the station it normally begins with looking at a phone or a tablet device. But not briefly. Intently. And they most likely don't stop to do it. They just keep on walking, head in their device, allowing only their subconscious brain to guide them, often not very well at all. How there aren't more traffic deaths, I don't know. It's as if there is nothing more important to the western world than what's on the little screen.

I'm not talking about the youth either. If anything, they are a little less hooked on their devices. I'm talking about us. the Adults. Especially the 25 - 45 age group. At least that's how it appears to me. I can't say for sure because up until now I've been busy looking at my phone and I've only just noticed.

I'm not the only person who has noticed. Thankfully not everyone is lost in the digital abyss. I recently saw this great piece of spoken word poetry called Look Up, by Gary Turk. It's doing the rounds, you might have seen it. If you haven't, watch it here And there's this very short piece called I Forgot My Phone. I think you get the idea.

Once you notice this behaviour it very quickly seems to be everywhere. On public transport, at the office, even around the dinner table. Next time you are at a restaurant,. have a look around you. I bet at every table of more than 4 people, someone is looking at a device.

I suppose the question to ask is, is it really a problem?

Next: Dissociation and the messaging fallacy.