Riding the MRT to work this morning, I decided to stop playing with the Apps on my smart phone and instead, to people watch my fellow commuters jammed in with me in the morning rush hour.
The predictable thing I noticed was of course how many people were hunched over their smart phones or phablets, playing games, watching movies or TV dramas, or catching up on Facebook.
Less obvious perhaps was that not a single person who was tethered to their devices around me was smiling or laughing. Most looked bored or wore a plain neutral blank look on their faces. Assuming that they had freely chosen their entertainment to tie them over a functional commute, I would have thought to see an occasional smile break across an otherwise placid face. And those who were catching up on Facebook were just as leaden. Surely, if you were reading about the exploits of a dear friend, it would light up your morning just a little? Or were the posts sadly those of peripheral acquaintances that were so mundane as to be non-existential (much like this blog some of you might say)?
Ironically, whilst we have more entertainment at our fingertips, we are increasingly bored and lonely. Games, movies, TV dramas and social media serve less to delight and more as a protective shield and to encase us in an anonymous cocoon so that we do not need to look up and acknowledge the existence of our neighbors or to have our neighbors acknowledge us.
If this is what it means to exist in a world of devices and cloud and technology, it makes me think of what Pico Iyer had written in his piece for the New York Times called the Joy of Quiet. Certainly, I’m going to unplug myself during my daily commute and dare to look people in the eye and smile. Call it my social experiment but let’s see how many people will have the courage to smile back and how many will fail and look away into the safe embrace of their devices.