I was wondering, yesterday, while walking on the street checking my email why people do this–i.e. check their email while walking on the street.
I tell myself that it’s because humans, in general, are a communicating species.
Communication brings a kind of acknowledgement (or at least a hope of acknowledgment). It’s almost as hard for people (even people other than me) to live without acknowledgment as to live without air. (Hence, the infamous rigors of solitary confinement.)
Is acknowledgement particularly important to humans. Does any non-human animal ask whether a tree falls if there is no one there to hear it? (How can we know? If an animal doesn’t articulate such thoughts to us, do they actually think them?)
In old-time small towns, at least in my grandmother’s small town (as seen through my grandmother’s eyes), there was always someone watching–acknowledging, as it were–through a blinds’ eye gaze, even when the small streets seemed absolutely asleep. (It can get hot in the mid-day mid-summer Midwest.)
This grandmother refused to let us hang out wet clothes to dry on an Tuesday afternoon. Washing was for Mondays, or at least, mornings. She couldn’t stand to have our disorganization noted.
This grandmother would not have texted or emailed while walking.
Cities offer the freedom of greater anonymity. We city dwellers further this by training ourselves to avoid the gazes of those around us.
Extremely well-trained city dwellers walk around in little self-contained bubbles, boxes, hoping that our own clear walls will help hold up the walls of those around us. (We’re a bit like little buildings; all self-contained, all nearly leaning against each other.)
But there’s still this communicating-species business, this need for acknowledgement. So, as we move our little box around (or, in the suburbs or country–our car), we text, email, talk on the phone.
“How about you?”
Oddly, as I was writing this post, I happened upon what looked like a live woman (or realistic sculpture) in a plexiglass box standing just near the center of the Grand Central Station.
Many people had gathered around it. It was as if a woman in a clear-walled box was something they’d hardly ever seen.