I’m on the #22 Knight, heading downtown with a busload of fellow commuters. Nearly all of us have our heads bent down, staring and tapping away at our various mobile devices.
The isolation is striking, the few times I look up to notice it. This will probably be the largest crowd I spend this much time in today, and yet we’re utterly alone, once you discount the millions of people those devices connect us to.
It wasn’t always like this. Back when I was a university student, facing a daily commute of well over an hour, the bus was much more of a social venue. You’d strike up a conversation with whoever was sitting or standing next to you. Share photos from your vacations. Discuss, conceive and — on longer routes — raise children.
In the winter, there’d always be some resourceful scamp who would flood the aisle with a few inches of water, which (this being Ottawa) froze solid in seconds, and an impromptu skating party would ensue. In the summer, the bus would fill with the mouth-watering haze of passengers’ hibachis and kettle BBQs grilling burgers and hot dogs. Forgot to bring one? No problem — people always shared.
Some bus routes became known for their communities’ idiosyncrasies. The 25 Express was a philosophers’ cafe on wheels, with a series of guest lecturers paid through passenger donations. The 85 had a great street hockey game (and, rumor had it, was regularly scouted by savvy NHL teams).
But then came the Walkman, and then cell phones, and finally the coup de grace: iPhones and their ilk. Today most people can’t even remember a time when buses were abuzz with conversation, when elevators were the place to see and be seen, and when doctors’ waiting rooms doubled as ersatz discotheques. Projecting their Internet-era toxic isolation onto their own memories, they figure people just spent their time with their noses buried in newspapers, books or magazines. But I remember. I remember.
(I’d have more to say about this, but the jackass next to me keeps pestering me, asking what I’m writing. Some people.)