There used to be a time, not so long ago in history when you might hear the following conversation at a dinner party or in any sort of social situation.
Imagine two people, two human beings are alone or with their respective friends and new acquaintances are being made. One human being introduces themselves to the other by name and then questions like this may be asked or insinuated and information gleaned any which way:
So what do you do?
Where do you work?
Where do you live?
How do you spend your day?
What are you doing here?
Do you come here often?
Just writing these questions prompts my memory to recall a funny experience I had in Brooklyn, New York in 2010. I mean, I thought it was funny. So bear with me, okay.
So, there I was minding my own business in a local park about ten minutes walk from a friend of mine with my four sons then aged between 5 – 11 years-old. We were due for dinner in an hour. I had taken the boys to the park for them to release their energy so that dinner would be some semblance of normality. My friend has her own bunch of kids so I felt it was an act of kindness to arrive with calm children hence me sitting on a bench watching my kids and taking in the view of the local community. The park was full of all sorts. It was a late afternoon in the summer so you can imagine the atmosphere and how many kids were running around and how many parents were taking a moment to catch their breath before the evening shift of mayhem at home. Mostly the people in my midst were dressed casually; simple cotton separates; jolly colours; easy going clothes for an easy going day. Summer in New York can be humid and it had been a long hot day by the looks on most peoples faces.
All of a sudden there was a significant shift of energy and all eyes were on a lady and what I can only assume was her daughter who had entered the park with the grandmother in charge of the pram. I say pram, it was more like the Rolls Royce of prams, and the mother and daughter were dressed as if they were due to visit Buckingham Place. Oh, this is going to be interesting; that was my first thought. What was more interesting is that after the mother and daughter parted with a kiss the mother drove her pram right next to me. As the pram got closer I felt all eyes on the chosen bench, yours truly. This was because every other bench was overly occupied by mothers, fathers, perhaps siblings and babysitters and the whole caboodle that one needs for such outings to a park on such a day such as sundries of bags of food, snacks, changes of clothing, drinks, books and toys and balls etc.
My bench was a free space as it was just me and my pocketbook and my thoughts. Well, the grandmother halted and put on the pram break and then ever so carefully took out from her pocketbook a beautiful linen napkin; very large in fact, like those provided in a five-star restaurant. She then proceeded to shake the napkin and lay it down on the bench. She then prepared to sit and sat.
All the time this procedure was taking place (from the corner of my eye) I kept my eyes on the ball; on my sons. I did not want this lady to think for one moment I thought her behaviour to be anything other than usual. But, in my mind, I thought: as long as I mirror her posture and remain still she will feel comfortable and she will open a conversation with me, and this will be a fascinating dialogue I am sure of it.
Moments passed and then what seemed like a very long minute or two. Finally, the moment arrived.
Hello, she said to me. Are you visiting or do you live in Brooklyn?
I am a visitor today but not a stranger to your lovely Brooklyn?
She smiled. I had pleased her but also myself. My experiences in New York, in Brooklyn, all across America have only been positive.
The next question stunned me.
What does your husband do and how much does he earn?
I thought I misheard her but I knew I had not.
I turned to her and instantly took in all the grandeur of the moment; she was exquisitely dressed; her perfume was expensive; she was elegant in every way and her face was beautifully adorned with fine makeup. Her jewellery was tasteful. There was only good before my eyes but I had clocked all that I mention here as she walked towards me in the first seven seconds of her appearance and walk in the park to my bench; what I was looking at after her question was what was inside of her. She had given me that key with her question; she was more interested in something that does not interest me especially in the very early stages of any acquaintance.
I was restless and felt drained from the heat. I was looking forward to a cool glass of water with ice and dinner with a dear friend. I had been travelling for a month with the children; first New York, then Detroit, then Baltimore. We were only back in Brooklyn as we were due to fly out of America in the morning. I was not in the mood for such talk so I was a little honest with her.
You are very presumptuous, I replied in an even tone without any intent to harm only intent to enlighten.
She rose her eyebrows.
What if I had been a widow or in fact like I am a lone parent with very little let alone a job at this moment because we came to America to see friends and this trip was paid for by a friend. If you could rephrase your sentence is there anything else you could have asked me? We don’t know each other. But, I would be very interested to talk to you, you look like a fascinating lady.
She now let her eyes roam over my neat clothes of a white linen shirt and black linen skirt and black patent shoes and black leather pocketbook. I guess she saw I was a shard of her but a more unpolished version at this time.
She nodded. I apologise she said. I just imagined we were from the same world.
We are, but I did not tell her this because that world is my origins and was a lost world to me; it existed in my memory; it was from another time and place. But, here we were now, two women in this world, this moment and I felt sure if we reset the moment we would have an interesting conversation – and we did.
Last night I travelled back from town after a meeting in Gordon Square, in Bloomsbury, a few doors away from the home where Virginia Woolf lived before she married Leonard Woolf in 1912. The train was packed like a can of sardines; thankfully, I had a seat but it was pretty cosy for everyone. What fascinated me about last night’s train journey from Euston to Edgware was every single person except me was holding a smart phone and either had ear phones perched in their ears because they were watching or listening to something or they were tapping away or swiping the screen of their smart phone with a finger.
Every single person I could see with my own eyes – about forty as I made the effort to count – in the carriage of my train was in reality out of my world and in a different world; the world they had entered through words and images or moving pictures on the screen of their phone. Not one person shared the same world. Not one single person spoke or exchanged any form of information or enlightenment gleaned from these worlds. I sat in the midst of over forty people under the earth in a train zooming through areas of London town and every single person was immersed in a virtual world that was not real but in reality, had captured as well as made them a captive. I was not alone in the carriage but I was alone in my world at that precise moment in the heart of my own city. It was a chilling moment, I can tell you. There was no eye contact. There was not a sound in that train carriage.
This is what I was thinking during that train journey: there is not one person in my midst here that I can talk to or I would want to talk to. I don’t believe one person here would notice if I was alive or dead, let alone would be interested or capable of having a discussion with me right now. They are lost in their own world. A world that no one else can enter at this time. Their world was not mine. I felt like the only full alert living person in London at that precise moment; I felt like the only person alive in my own reality. And, I felt sad because I was sharing it physically with so many people but not emotionally, spiritually or intellectually, and that really matters to me.
What a strange thing; to be sitting in Brooklyn having a fascinating conversation with a stranger and yet not finding one person to talk to in a carraige full of people in my own city.
Eight years separates these two experiences. Technology has made such advancements in this time period. I fear what sort of world will exist for me in twenty years and what sort of world my grandchildren’s children will experience. I will never be able to discuss this with them. I will see it perhaps because I believe from Heaven I might be able to see everything from that world when I have passed on. But, thankfully I am still alive and well and living in this world but what world is this world becoming; not a world I am particularly happy about, to be honest. It is a world of many worlds and that is only within the world I can see with my own eyes. Which means technically, if every human being on the planet where to be holding a smart phone right now, and I was not, I would be a very lonely person in this one world that was created for all of us. A frightening thought.
The question I leave you with is this: how can this possibily be reversed and is it too late to free the world population from the captivity of their smart phone use? Or should I say, becasue maybe this is more accurate, is it too late to free the world so they can appreciate the new moment of every day that is a world unto itself? For every new moment presents limitless possibilities for every human being; who is a world unto themselves.
I told you I would be writing new material to inspire and enlighten you. I did not say I had all the answers or that I would be providing tidy stories wrapped in pink bows. The truth is not always easy to hear.
Caption: In the early twentieth century people read newspapers on trains. Today, in the year 2018 the majority have entrusted themselves to worlds owned by strangers that exist beyond the screen of their smart phone; in the worlds of others and other people’s creations within the internet world. Where is this journey taking us? What is the next world and what cost will it be to humanity? Some questions to ponder.