June 21, 2011 - Comments Off on Trains, Mobiles and Bubble-heads

Trains, Mobiles and Bubble-heads

Catching a train is an every person for themselves situation.  The key to this commuter art is to hang about near-ish to the platform edge, acting nonchalantly as if you are not bothered about getting onto the train quickly.  Pretend there is no one else around and it is just you, your smartphone and your status updates, text messages and emails that command your full attention.   Be calm and cool as a cucumber until the moment the train arrives and then spring into action, surprising your fellow platform dwellers with your quick moves. PUSH, ELBOW and SHOVE yourself through the people trying to disembark, and past those who are trying to get on.

Other passengers..where?

Once you’re on, return to your mobile and switch your bubble back to ‘oblivious to the people around me’.  This will mean that you remain blissfully unaware of the elderly lady bent almost double leaning on her walking stick while you, absorbed in who has liked your new profile pic on Facebook, stay comfortably seated.  Safe in the bubble of your own day, your head is only focussed on the fact that you are on that train, on the way to what you’re doing and interacting with people who are not on that train takes up your headspace.

I need therefore I interact

It amazes me, however that if you then get stuck on this same train later on in the journey these people suddenly look up from their phones to address the people around them (the same ones they were willing to sacrifice to being left on the platform on the way onto the train) to politely enquire if anyone knows anything about how long the train will be delayed, and to ask how each other’s journey is going?  Where were these manners before?  Why can’t people bear to look up from their phones to let other people get off a train before they get on, or even help someone with a heavy bag or pushchair to get on before them?!

Too much, too often = too rude

I believe that with the amount of data we can consume on our phones and computers we’ve become as disconnected to the world around us as we are overconnected to the world of technology.  Don’t get me wrong- I tweet and share as much (probably a bit more) than the next person, but I enjoy switching off (literally switching off phones, computers and tech) as much as switching on.  This is why I strongly believe there is a time and a place, and even a right way of engaging with people via social media and tech.  These are the places I think people need to take the bubbles off their heads and interact with the physical world around them more effectively:

1. While getting on or getting off Trains- see above

2. Being a pedestrian, on the the move, walking -anywhere! A recent story from a colleague involved witnesses a girl walking along the pavement so absorbed in looking at her phone that she slammed into a man walking the other way and as a result her phone fell to the ground and smashed.  A lesson in manners and paying attention to where you are going one might say, for the girl in question not so: she yelled obscenties at the poor chap and blamed him for not paying her the courtesy she wasn’t paying him- i.e looking where he was going!!

3. On the toilet- yes there have been many reports of tweeting from this location but is this appropriate or really necessary?

4. While on the phone to someone else- this goes for using a computer whilst talking to someone elsewhere as well!

5. While in the middle of a conversation with someone who is actually physically in the same place as you- why is the person calling/texting/tweeting/emailing you via your mobile or PC more important than the one you’re already conversing with?!

6. Buses- if you have the sound on while on a bus, don’t have anything against the use of mobiles if you are seated and not annoying anyone!

Mobile first, manners second

We are living in a world where people think nothing of walking along a street not looking at where they are going, but at their mobile phone screen.  Any in their path are expected to adjust their course around them, and if you don’t you’re punished with a look that says ‘how inconvenient that you did not watch where I was going for me, so I could continue to be somewhere other than I actually am on my phone in my bubble!’  It is almost as though the mobile is being treated like a bubble that protects the user from the physical world around them, which causes people to behave in a similar manner to a hamster in a ball- only changing course after smashing into things.

My bubble ball will protect me from the real, physical world around me, surely?

Too much content for consumption?

I think it all comes down to an increasing pressure to consume content and data not only extremely frequently but everywhere you go!  While there are benefits to having all this data accessible there are pitfalls that come with the information overload.  This is discussed brilliantly in a recent Tuesday essay by Rhodri Marsden who writes about a ‘Filter Failure‘ I think many can relate to.