I know everything about everyone. I know that the boy with the red hair, sitting in front of me, has a fear of family gatherings. Every time a holiday comes around, he gets sick. It’s not that he’s pretending, it’s just that the thought of all his family in one space, at one time, makes him feel nauseous. So he opts out by sleeping on the couch, until it’s all over. This boy is not a friend or a companion, I know these things about him simply because we share the same bus route home. I sit and I mind my own business, but I hear things. People all around me are on their phones, having conversations with people miles away, it’s like I’m in a zombie land. In “Always On/ Always On You: The Tethered Self,” Sherry Turkle talks about the use of technology in public spaces. Places that were once public, have become private for people and what Turkle calls their “tethering technologies.”
I spend a considerable amount of my day on public transit. People stare forward and talk, completely disconnected from the here and now. I may listen to my ipod or read my book but I am aware of what’s happening around me. However, I can’t say that for the majority of the people who I ride the train, or take the bus with. People that I have encountered seem to be completely content with sharing their weekend plans, life failures and current sexual fantasies while sitting next to me on rapid transit. Sherry Turkle talks about people being tethered to their mobile phones, but has it really come to a point where people can share things so personal in what you would call a public space?
After hearing a man on the train leave a voicemail for someone, I was convinced that people were having these private conversations to attract attention. It was rush hour and the train was packed full. This ordinary man was leaning against the glass and I could hear him talking into his cell phone. He was going on about how he had just gotten out of the hospital, because days earlier, he suffered a heart attack. I wasn’t the only one listening, the entire train was engaged in the mans dramatic story. A woman even looked up at him to offer her seat. The man looked a little sad and shook his head. Clearly he knew that people were listening to his conversation, but did he care?
Maybe it isn’t that this man was looking for attention, or the hopes of finding a seat, but he was doing what seemed important at the time. He needed to tell his friend what happened to him, and he found the time to do so while riding the train. Even if this was the case, I didn’t need to know that this particular man had suffered a heart attack, or that the red head boy felt nauseous at the sight of his extended family. I know far too much about the people of Vancouver because they are connecting to what matters to them, and they are doing so on the train and in cafes. There are no public places, only spaces where people go, always connected to their “tethered self.”