Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Look Around You (Or, The Man With The Beret Wants Me To Stare Silently At Strangers)

Tuesdays are not great. They're so close to Monday, and the weekend is so distant, they kind of feel like Monday except without the right to complain.

Making them somewhat better is the fact that the ABC Media Watch video is loaded onto their website, so I can download the show in the morning, and happily dig into the episode on my way to work on Tuesday. This morning, I did so, and once I'd finished, I pulled out my earphones - the train was incredibly crowded, so I wanted to hear in case someone was needing to push past me.

"You're totally obsessed with your phone, aren't you?"

The words came quietly from my left, and I glanced at their source. A squat man in his early 40s, sporting a thin, patterned scarf, an over-sized black leather jacket, dark jeans, and most importantly, a round, high beret, was staring silently at me.

His expression was oddly similar to the expression that those who exercise regularly have when scooting past still-drunk revellers at 6am - a mixture of feigned sympathy and barely-concealed disgust, topped with near-masturbatory righteous pleasure.

I'd been preparing for this moment my whole life. I knew he'd be getting off the train some time soon - he didn't look the sort to venture north of Redfern, so I didn't have a lot of time.

"Yes, I am obsessed with my phone. Is that a problem?"

"Well, why don't you just look around you?"

It's too easy. The snooty drawl. The leather jacket. The beret. Oh, god, the beret. Make it hard for me, man. Don't make it so easy.

"I can access the entire wealth of human knowledge through this device. I can watch a live feed of the space. I can read about psychology, art or poetry. I can access and read the majority of contemporary literature. I can have  real-time conversation with relatives in San Francsisco, Denmark, London and Germany. What do you propose I do?"

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

"Look up from your phone. Take in the world. Look around you"

I glanced around the train. In the vestibule stood around 15 people, packed in tight peak-hour congestion, each staring down at their phone or straight ahead. Directly to my left sat a young woman reading a book.

"I've just found out about the death of a major Australian figure through Twitter. I can guarantee you're not going to know anything about it unless you turn on or walk past a digital device. I also read the tweets of people in space, or watch comets flying past Mars. There are just people standing on this train. It's astonishing that you're saying I should just weirdly stare at these people instead"

"Yes, astonishing" he muttered, as he sauntered grumpily out of the train carriage and onto the platform at Redfern.

As he stepped off the train, a man standing nearby glanced at me. With a knowing look, I smiled and raised my phone at him. He smiled back, and raised his phone, and I went back to reading an article about how we'd sent a robot to another planet, and that a comet had flown past that planet, which we'd watched using a gigantic telescope orbiting the Earth.

If I'm at a beach, or in view of some magnificent vista, I won't be buried in a handset. But my daily commute is a fairly perfect time for consuming everything fantastic that the internet has to offer. There's no ridiculous bygone era where people would sit on the train, wordlessly gazing lovingly at each other, taking in the varieties of human morphology.

Basically, Beret-Wearing-Redfern-Technophobe, you better think twice before screwing with people on a Tuesday.