You are never alone
I had one of those surreal, sci-fi horror moments today when walking to get coffee and a danish this morning. Everyone was on their phones or iPods. Everyone. The mom with the stroller waiting for the pedestrian light was texting, the old guy waiting for the bus was on the phone, the girl in the car at the stop light was looking at the screen in her lap… Everywhere I looked someone was interacting with some kind of electronic device and not looking at each other at all.
Of course, I was checking my email while walking down the street, so that, 'Oh my god, it's everywhere! Even I'm doing it!' moment was that much more visceral.
I'm not qualifying it, other than it was weird to see all these quiet people lost somewhere else in a sea of binary data streams. The girl in the car might have been looking at a GPS and getting to a new job on time. The mom might have been arranging babysitting. The old guy… let's not imagine what old guys at the bus stop are doing…
But what I realized walking along on this sunny day is that the old guy standing alone at the bus stop wasn't really alone… No single person wandering the streets was alone -- they were all connected to someone else with these devices that give us all prosthetic ESP powers.
The fact that mobile data is so cheap now (Verizon offers an unlimited data plan for about 60 bucks), and the fact that the gaps in the cell network are rapidly filling in with mini-cell towers reaching into the cracks and crevices of our urban landscape, means you're always in reach of someone.
Now add the fact that more and more of our devices are plugging into, um, wireless. Okay, bad metaphor, but cars send tire pressure alerts to the 'Net, you can get WiFi on airplanes, heck, the thing I read books on has 3G wireless, which means Amazon probably knows where I'm reading that book I just bought from them (don't ask).
I've talked a lot about the Hive mind and the Internet, but there's something more than the fact I can find out when the schrader valve was invented to settle an argument in the middle of nowhere. It's that I can have that argument in the middle of nowhere when there isn't anyone else around.
But then with wireless everywhere, we aren't really ever in the middle of nowhere, and we're never alone.