The next time you’re at a bus stop, airport, train station, or bar I want you to sit down, wait five seconds, and then observe what most if not all of those around you are doing. You know the answer:
They’re on the smartphone
What do you normally do:
You whip out the smartphone
When you sit down next to somebody at the airport do you talk to them at all? Even simple things like “good morning”? Maybe you do, but if so, I fear you’re in the minority. We don’t talk to each other like we used to. This is a problem.
I get the idea that if my Great-Grandfather sat down in a train station or bar in say 1920, that he’d strike up a conversation with whoever was there. After all, back then what else was there to do? Read the paper I suppose, but still.
I’m probably the worst person to make this argument since I’m naturally inclined to be a weird, creepy, bizarre introvert. Ask my dogs, they’ll validate this. But I’m still going down this road. We need more caveman in us. Folks sitting around a fire and, you know, talking.
Here, take this awesome scene from James Clavell’s Gai-jin, imagining a bar from the 1860s:
…enjoying the warm camaraderie and laughter over spicy scandals, the ball, tension over business problems and if war would begin, or about the latest book someone had read, a new funny story or poem another had thought up, or telling tales of storms or ice lands or desert, or journeys made to strange places…
Today this delicious paragraph would read:
…and they tacked away at their smartphones, silently…
Now a lot of you will claim it’s the same thing, just digitally. I don’t agree. When you’re not face-to-face, something’s lost. Plus, the whole idea of face-to-face is that you meet somebody different, learn a new thing, an exciting experience. When you’re on the phone, you’re still inside your bubble, you’re not branching out.
It’s going to get worse. I just read in The Economist about a new smartphone app that lets you determine the political leanings of products on a grocery store shelf. The bubbles that we live in, they’re getting harder to pierce, less transparent, positively stone-like.
I think this is at the core of our dysfunction today. None of us have much reason to lean outside our bubble. And so we hate everybody who isn’t in it. Whether it’s politics, religion, hobby, whatever.
If you’re a militant party acolyte and you have a real face-to-face conversation with a militant party acolyte from the other side, maybe you talk politics or sports or the weather. Who cares, but you get to discover they’re actually not in league with Satan.
Or maybe after talking to them you’d still think they’re in league with Satan. Maybe I’m making too much of this. Maybe a ton of cavemen campfire encounters ended in murder. And bar brawls are a concept that exists for a reason.
However, I’d rather we all go out via caveman campfire violence or a vicious bar brawl. Better that than deafening silence punctuated only by phone clicks. At least then we’d know we’re alive.
We all need to get a little more caveman in us. Next time you’re in the real world, think before you whip out the phone. Perhaps, try and talk to someone you don’t know. See how it goes. It might be a good thing. I promise that I’ll try and do the same.
An atmosphere decidedly lacking in anger, hatred, or apps