I’m in Oslo, Norway today. Never been here before. Egenes is a Norwegian name. My sister, Jane, says it means “know-it-all” in Norwegian. I’m not gonna argue with her on that one.
So, I’ve come halfway around the world, up to the frozen north, to give a talk on record production, to a bunch of record producers and academics and such. Should prove interesting (the conference, not my talk…), but being here in Norge isn’t why I’m writing this. It has more to do with the trip over, and probably the trip back.
I finally made it to this little AirBnB apartment downtown, after 36 hours of travel. Starting in New Zealand and traveling east, you go back in time a day, right off the bat. So, you get to Los Angeles before you left. By the time they gas up the plane in LA and fly you another 10 hours over to London, you’ve pretty much lost track of which day it is. Even my smart devices and iGadgets don’t know. They all say different things. All I know is, It’s now exactly 12 hours difference from New Zealand, though I don’t know if I’m a day ahead or behind. It feels like it should be late night, since it was pitch black when I landed in Oslo at 4:30 in the afternoon. My computer says it’s 4:16 in the afternoon, but my iPad says it’s 4:16 in the morning. I don’t know which one to believe anymore. Maybe there’s an app for it.
But I digress. Jet lag and the travails of travel aren’t the topic here, though they do have some influence on it. I noticed, when hanging out in the club lounge at the airport in Dunedin, waiting to head off, that the place was reasonably full of people, but no one was talking to anyone else there. I was reading my book, and stopped to count heads. Twenty-seven people there. I counted 4 people who were NOT looking down at a handheld device, though two of the four were looking at laptop computers. So, out of 28 people, all up, three (including me) were not absorbed in their electronic gadgetry. I noticed the same thing at my other layovers. Not exactly surprising to me, especially since I work at a university, where most are under 30 and spend a great deal of time so engaged. Oh, and I should add here, this continued once on the plane. TV screens everywhere (including my own), and people sitting in very tight quarters but not really acknowledging each other. Still drawn into their own devices, headphones attached.
And except for the two clueless blowhards who were both walking about the place, talking loudly into headsets to disembodied recipients on the other end, all were quietly attached to their iphones, droids, bluetooths, ipods-pads-gadgets, and blissfully unaware of their own surroundings. Most were obviously conversing with someone… texting, e-messaging, and the like. Connecting by disconnecting. Attachment through unattachment. Embodied through disembodiment.
Time was when a gathering place such as an airport lounge, a train platform, a grocery store line, or a dentist’s office was where you’d meet strangers, strike up a conversation for a few minutes, and enrich your life by a small amount. No, you didn’t usually get to know the other person, probably didn’t get their name, and might never see them again. But you came away the richer for it, anyway. Tidbits of lives. The viewpoints of others. Human body language. A cross-fertilization of ideas and feelings that somehow are not quantifiable as ASCII text, or as the ones and zeros of machine language, and so are not deliverable over a network. Seems like all of that’s on its way out now, leaving us to flounder about in the wake of our ubiquitous digital connections.
I know, I know… I sound like some old fart pining away for the good old days. Maybe I am, though I must say that I love our digital connections. Seems a shame, though, to lose the ability to engage in a face to face conversation. Young people may grow up without it, and that’s a shame, too. But we older people, those of us who used to have that, those of us who have given over to texting and plexing and facebooking and such… For us to abandon the art of conversation… well, that’s more than a shame. It’s a tragedy. Next time you’re sitting in a cafe, look around and see how many are caught up in this digital diversion. That is, if you can pull yourself away from your handheld long enough.