“In a mobile society, it’s possible to be lonely in a crowd.” – Excerpt from a lecture at the university of Vermont.
It has always been possible to feel lonely amongst a crowd. It seems there is something urksome about other people and so public space becomes private where possible. Many factors culminate to make it possible as Humpphreys (2006, 811) points out in referring to Zuboff’s 1984 work: “…technological innovations do not lead to discrete effects, but instead alter the social and organizational fabric of our world.” This may imply that our social world is renegotiated when the impacts of technology are felt and the ensuing modification must be continuously completed.
It seems necessary to assume that society has characteristics beyond what is stated or explicitly reflected by our speech and actions. If the presence of a social conscious, as for individual psyches but when relating to each other, is a reasonable assertion then it following there is a social subconscious present too.
“…people map their understandings of common social rules and dilemmas onto new technologies. In new contexts people rely on tacit social norms to negotiate their social interactions; however, these contexts can call for new rules about social acceptability.” (Humphreys 2006, 822)
The introduction of technology is a refinement in application of social urges. In this case, the urge to get away from strangers and seek increasingly private opportunities even in spaces and at times when their presence is inevitable (even essential) such as on public transport or a sidewalk. Strangers are essentially present in the sense that a sidewalk for one is not a viable infrastructure regime as much as everyone may prefer. I have noticed strangers to me cross the road prematurely as to avoid sharing a sidewalk with another stranger such as myself – as I too have felt the urge toward similar actions in public spaces. When you think about it this is such extremely potent irony.
Individuals co-habit public spaces in an entirely private way. Strangers can no longer be reached for any reason except warnings of danger when their headphones or mobile screens slice their attention visibly from other people. When you approach someone wearing headphones you had better have something important to say because they need to either pause their player or remove the ear-buds in order to hear you –
and this is obviously a terrific effort as shown by their facial expression.
However, the presence of a little screen, book, or music-player doesn’t necessarily bring new distraction to the scene as there was always distraction for an individual on a bus for example. Previously, distraction may have been softer, derived from thoughts or feelings, humming or looking around at sights and listening to sounds – more importantly it was less obvious to other strangers that you possessed distraction or that you wished to actively keep it going. With the Crazy Birds app on your phone it is absolutely paramount that you are left alone unless under hijack.