Photo of an iPhone reading 'Me Me Me'

We’re a bunch of self-absorbed jerks, and it’s the Internet’s fault

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.)

One thought on “We’re a bunch of self-absorbed jerks, and it’s the Internet’s fault

  1. Kelly Bonds

    So true. Here in Toronto on the GO train, all civil discourse is gone. They have even instituted “The Quiet Zone” where thou shall not make a sound.

    I remember my father telling me about days gone by where people would carpool to the station and socialize in groups on the train. There may also have been drinking involved during the holidays. We are slowly losing our humanity.

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