People watching has become an enjoyable pastime for me lately. It once was that I would hate to sit still for any length of time, unless that time included a gripping book to read. Waiting in line seemed to fuel my impatience, driving my idle mind to grasp for straws, at the very least, straws with something to read whereby to occupy my thoughts.
Enter stage left, the invention and acquisition of the smartphone. Such an incredible device, crammed with many features, both advertised and those which were not. Several megapixel camera, 3.2% faster than the latest model, a glossy screen to better glare in direct sunlight. Oh, and of course the new-found ability to simply let the submarine of my attention to dive into the app of the day, leaving behind all those potentially awkward small-talk conversations at the DMV. No longer did I have to sit aimlessly, glancing repeatedly over at the clock only to catch the phenomenon of the second hand freezing in place much longer than seemed necessary, time after time. Why, I could see what fun my friends on Facebook were having without me, instantly depress myself by perusing the news, or to the very delight of Visa, scroll through Amazon with boredom and shiftlessness priming an ever-itchy order trigger finger. Free Two Day Shipping! What could be better?
After one becomes enveloped in the cocoon that is mobile tech, there’s always an awakening feeling when you have to surface for air. For myself, I find myself paranoid that I was so intent on my device that I missed something around me that must have been of great importance. A sort of, “Oh, where was I?” Back to the world again. Is my flight boarding yet?
There it was, a nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe, I should leave the phone down every now and then to just take in my surroundings. Recalling my exasperation (vexation, I’ll admit it) at all the tourists and their “selfie sticks” at Bryce Canyon in Utah, turning their backs on the grandeur around them and returning immediately to their car, their reward captured, the best portrait with which to impress their friends, enemies, and possibly even attempt to woo an equally photogenic suitor. Missing all that nature had to offer by focusing their phones and their attention solely on themselves.
Slowly, I began to leave my phone in my pocket (or even in the truck) as I stood in line or waited for someone to arrive. I switched to analog mode, if you will. A dog would bark, and this time, I would notice. A woman would be wiping a tear as she held the phone and slumped behind the register at an airport bookstore. People would have the most unusual conversations. I noticed this.
In a small way, I began to feel myself wondering about the people surrounding me, those doing their best to conceal their emotions and those who were far beyond such reservations, and I started to empathize with them. Do I know their struggles, their triumphs? The source of their tears, their laughter, their cold and sullen indifference? No. Do I really need to, in able to be happy for them or to empathize with them? In the very least, have considered or thought about them?
I’m finding listening to others’ small-talk fascinating. Go ahead and take the jump sometimes yourself! You can meet the most interesting, incredible in the places you least expect. Just make the switch to analog, and you’ll likely be surprised at what you’ve been missing.
I’ve found that I have remember seemingly inconsequential moments, yet they serve as a snapshot of that small slice of life that I shared with random passersby. People I will likely never encounter again, etched into my memory.
See from the Istanbul Metro: a small playground, a girl sitting on one end of a see-saw, looking fruitlessly for someone to help the ride fulfill it’s name. I saw.
In the Atlanta airport: the man pacing in the TSA security line, suddenly finding the keys of the car borrowed from his brother still in his pocket. His wife panicking and him reassuring her while placing a call to his brother. The distraught look on their faces when informed they could not leave the security line.
From the courtroom today: the dejected shoulder slump of a lady just notified she’d be serving on the jury all week.
There are countless other examples, but the fact remains; had I been engrossed on that small 4.7” AMOLED screen, these moments would have passed by unnoticed. Are these moments great, life-defining? Monumental even? Hardly, but I wouldn’t trade them for any digital reward I might have reaped blindered in my tiny cocoon of technology.