Disconnected

Posted on 12/20/2011 in misc

One of the things that I have noticed on my daily commute is how disconnected we are from our environment. When I get in line to catch a ride some people will already have headphones on. So they are there physically, but you can't really interact with them. On the ride to the Pentagon, nobody talks, everybody either has headphones on, or has their nose buried in a smartphone, or is sleeping. That is partly by design, as the rules of slugging dictate that slugs (the riders) should be seen and not heard. At 6 AM it is understandable, as I count the ride in as an extension of sleep time. When I drive, especially coming home, I try to open it up to a little conversation. Usually it fails as the riders put on their headphones and retreat from their environment.

Once we get to the Pentagon I join the masses on public transportation. A large percentage of people will have headphones on, often loud enough that the people around them can also enjoy their music. Traveling around DC via subway with your sense of sound essentially shut off seems a little but dangerous, especially if you are young and/or female and thus already a potential target for crime or harassment.

Note: This morning I had my headphones on all the way to my destination Metro stop - so I'm just as guilty as anybody else. Although I just started this in the last couple of weeks. I used to put my MP3 player away when we got to the Pentagon, because traveling through public spaces disconnected from my environment made me nervous. I do keep the volume low enough that I can hear what is going on around me.

It just seems odd to me that we all have hundreds of "friends" on Facebook that we interact with, yet we try to avoid interacting with the people around us in the real world. If you ride in a car with 3 strangers for an hour, and the total extent of your interaction is a thank you to the driver as you exit, did you even really share the experience of the ride? It's more like we had 4 separate rides, while sharing a physical space.

Walt Whitman once wrote something about a rose being just a rose, not aware of any past or future, or any other roses. It just is, in that moment. We humans are increasingly doing the opposite. We live in every moment except the one we are currently experiencing.

I'm wondering if that is really healthy, both individually, and for society.

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