I decided the other day that I was going to go out and try to actually meet another human being. The world we live in is strife with the ability to communicate with each other but on a level that’s as impersonal as it’s ever been.
I remember long ago when somebody wasn’t a “phone person” it actually made some kind of sense. The phones were big enough to kill a puma, awkward and if you needed to do something you had to cradle the receiver in your neck until it started to throb. If it was hot your ear sweat in the receiver and after awhile the whole thing just became an exercise in pain and frustration.
Now I have people who tell me they don’t Instant Message because it’s just too much work. Wow, let’s really think about that for a second. The idea that reading and then typing one sentence or maybe two is too strenuous for somebody. The mind boggles, the soul caves in a bit because the technology demon has claimed another victim.
We have laptops with wireless internet, IM, Facebook, CellPhones, texting, email, Twitter and yet the world continues to feel more isolated, as if the dream of being able to communicate with out face-to-face confrontation has come back to bite us in the ass.
I decided that this beautiful summer day was the day I was going to break these technological chains and find somebody to talk to. We would talk about life and discuss ideas, even if the idea was that we couldn’t stand each other. At the very least I’d meet this new person who hated my guts by standing in front of him or her. I stepped out of my house anxious to start talking to people when my first hurdle came into focus: the Ipod. Well, truthfully it’s an MP3 Player but Ipod has replaced the actual name as the universal term for MP3 players. The way the Q-Tip replaces cotton swab or Kleenex replaces facial tissue.
There were so may people on the streets today, all basking in a warm glowing sun and every last one of them totally wrapped in their own little world. The player sizes were different, the styles different, even the way they were carrying them was different but the effect was the same. Passing within inches of each other these people had no idea anybody else was there. Sure maybe in peripheral way so they don’t bump into one another or end up street pizza but not really noticing what was going on.
At one point I saw a woman that was anatomically crippling. She sauntered by with her olive skin catching glints of sunlight as her long black hair cascaded over shoulders. The only things harder not to notice then her deep sparkling green eyes were her full lips and the generous and toned body she had was hidden barely beneath a tank top and short shorts.
I stood waiting for her to sprout angel wings and start healing the blind but I guess I was alone in this. Apparently the grooves were too groovy and the tunes too awesome for anybody (guy or girl alike) to give her a second glance. I knew then that trying to talk to anybody walking down the street would be a lesson in futility.
I mean I’m pretty damn cute but if nobody saw this girl coming then I could be goose-stepping down the street in a Nazi Uniform and remain mostly unmolested. I did try a conversation-starting smile at a few people but if they did notice me it was only to stare as if I had a mask made of boogers.
Defeated by the Ipod fiasco I tried to think of the next best possible place to try and meet folks. Then it struck me, a café, the age-old place where people congregated to share ideas over a cup of the greatest beverage known to man. I must confess I am addicted to coffee, in a way I never thought I would be.
Growing up the way I did a lot of inherent grown up things passed me by. For instance I never grew a taste for beer or cocktails so having a drink after work with friends meant I either had water or a soda. Not being able to partake in glib conversation over Apple-tinis always made me feel like a kid when I went out no matter what age I was.
The same had happened with coffee until my good friend Dave forced me to try a summer dessert coffee that hooked me instantly. Since then I’ve paired it down to a robust love of normal coffee, iced coffee, espresso, mochas and so on. When my palette for coffee had truly formed I began going to coffee shops with friends to wax philosophical and lose myself in the pretentious act of sipping coffee and talking about life. Having these experiences made me giddy that I’d find an endless supply of people to talk to today.
I headed into a place I frequent called Café Nation where I was greeted with a sight that made me take a step back. The place was full and most of the people there were facing laptops, clicking away on keyboards, Facebooking, blogging and not looking up at the people around them.
The best part was that some of the customers were there together, sitting across from each other staring at their laptops. The only time they spoke was to grunt about passing cream or sugar (well actually non-fat milk or soy) for their drinks. It was like the scene from Pink Floyd’s The Wall when the kids were marching towards the meat grinder. Who knew a bright and cheery café could be so eerily unsettling.
For some reason I thought maybe I’d try Starbucks but I was way off there. Not only was it another docking station for the laptop generation but also filled with awful college kids. It was like watching “2001: A Breakfast Club” or “Pretty In Processors”. Dejected I walked into Dunkin Donuts, which, while not laptop friendly, was not exactly what I had in mind. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against the drooling elderly, the homeless or Methadone patients but they didn’t really seem to want to talk to me and the average Dunkin Donuts has a smell that isn’t really conducive to much outside of dry heaving.
I did visit the bathroom of the Dunkins and while I’m sure Snot Art has its place it reduced the need to talk to the need to run, screaming and trying to choke back tears.. I stood on the street trying to keep my lunch down, sad that I still hadn’t found a single person who wasn’t chained to their fucking technology leash.
The rest of the day was the same thing in different places. I went to the park where people were talking on their cellphones or worse using their Iphone to watch videos on You Tube and leave comments. I thought maybe a nice outside seat at a restaurant might lead towards a new conversation. Ironic as it is somehow the act of eating gets people talking. That was not to be on this day, instead I saw more people sitting outdoors blankly eating food while typing on Facebook or Iming.
I do love the idea that people will involve themselves so deeply in Facebook. I know people who have more personal information posted on Facebook than they’d ever tell a stranger. I won’t lie, I have a Facebook page with likes and dislikes but not my address or my cellphone number and the only pictures are of my cat Quint who never goes outside anyway.
I do blog, I’ll admit that, and sometimes it feels weird, like I’m having an in depth conversation with an imaginary friend. Blogging is a fine thing to do for personal reasons but the idea that people are getting books deals or movies made about their “blog” is insane. I guess the need for memories is gone because the instant you have an experience you need to write it down in your blog.
If I had to pick the one technological juggernaut that I flat out don’t understand it would have to be Twitter. I won’t go out and tell people what I’m doing but I will update in words what I’m doing moment-to-moment and then use my phone to upload it. Twitter only lets you write a sentence at a time before posting. Isn’t that a conversation? You say something and then so does somebody else and so on? Why bother with talking when we can Twitter our lives away.
Dejected and annoyed I headed home to drown my sorrows in coffee and Retro TV (the greatest television channel ever). My trip was haunted by the constant parade of people listening to Ipods (sorry, MP3 players) and even the occasional soul awkwardly trying to hold up their laptops during the jolting ride on the Green Line.
When I got home I picked up the phone to call a friend of mine, a guy I loved talking to. When he picked up we chatted a few seconds before I felt a weird vibe coming from his end. I asked him what was wrong and you know what he said?
“Sorry man, I’m not really a phone person.”