For those of you who are reading this article due to the title’s implied content, I adore you! That is exactly what I would have done and therefore I think it only fair to let you know that the “devices” of which I speak are our electronic devices: the iphone, our laptops, Kindles, and ipads, etc. Perhaps if everyone were more inclined to use other types of …er, devices, we might be a little easier to get along with as a society! In any case, I had an adventure today and I want to tell you about my observations and also kill two birds with one stone (that is a dreadful cliché).
I am currently working through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and one of the weekly assignments is to take myself on an artist date. Since I had a scheduled appointment to go out of town today, in an attempt to alleviate the mundane nature of the task at hand I decided to utilize the opportunity to scratch that item off of this week’s assignment by spending some self-structured time at Barnes and Noble and then treating myself to lunch at Pei Wei Asian Restaurant. The day turned out to be an absolutely enjoyable adventure and I came away with some interesting thoughts about my fellow humans. In addition, I had another opportunity to fine-tune my bad-ass chopstick skills!
I am a self-confessed people watcher and I usually approach this past-time circumstantially: I’m waiting somewhere for something. Today, however, was different. Today I deliberately set about the business of purposefully paying attention to sizes, shapes, and social habits of the humans at a very large and very quiet bookstore. While sitting at a table at the in-house Starbucks, I had an excellent vantage point with which to conceal my people-observing mission. I was immediately struck by the prevalence of hand-held devices; it appeared as though everyone had a cell in their hands and were either engaged in a conversation or looking at something on their screens. In the meantime, the presence of others is visually apparent and the store is otherwise as quiet as a library. Neither of these factors made a difference. And it wasn’t overtly rude. I had to ruminate over this newly accepted habit of socialization: a form of person-to-person contact in which we socialize with those on our devices but not with those in the same room.
Interestingly enough, I found this atmosphere strangely comforting…? I began to realize that these people who didn’t even know me were allowing me to listen to snippets and phrases of their private conversations. These bits of communication would not ordinarily capture my attention but it seemed as though these device-users were announcing their presence by conversing in a quiet bookstore. This behavior and its consequent addition to the atmosphere of the store brought them acknowledgement but it also sent another message: I am not available for interaction. It was like the opera Tommy: see me, feel me, touch me, [hear] me. But please do not talk to me! We can go places to be among others but we must bring our devices to avoid interaction! “Alone” is the new social connection!
As for the reasons that I found this atmosphere so comforting, I can only fall back on my tendencies as an introvert. To be in public always carries the risk of being approached to engage in conversation. I would avoid these situations as much as possible unless I was psyched-up for a possible encounter. Often, it would be very draining. However, today was different; I was completely relaxed and at-ease! I knew that these “others” were engrossed in their own little fishbowl worlds and that the likelihood of one of them intruding in on mine was minimal. What a freedom! The title of one of Bukowski’s tomes came instantly to mind: You Get So Alone Sometimes That It Just Makes Sense.
And it did. And it does.
(Did I mention that I was on my laptop?! )