Last morning, as I walked along a Brooklyn sidewalk to my gym, heading for my 10AM workout, I saw a young woman walking straight at me, her face turned away, attending to some other matter of interest (a smartphone, but it might have been kids or pets; the precise details of this encounter have slipped my mind). Unwilling to be run over by this rapidly approaching freight train, to be clothes-lined or head-butted, I nimbly stepped aside, infuriated that yet again, on a New York sidewalk, I had been subjected to the tyranny of the inattentive pedestrian. (And not even by a midtown tourist at that; those folks are just plain incorrigible. My fellow New Yorkers should know better.)
But my thoughts were not so inchoate, they weren’t just an incoherent mess of unresolved frustration; instead, they seemed to be arranging themselves into a sentence long expression of my aggravation: “My least favorite pedestrian is the kind that walks in one direction with his attention diverted elsewhere – whether its smartphones, kids, or pets”. Or perhaps, more mysteriously, and yet, immediately comprehensible to some: “That’s quite all right. You should, of course, barge ahead on this sidewalk, your head down, unseeing, uncaring. ”
This wasn’t your garden-variety introspection; it was clearly intended for public consumption, for a pithy display of my thoughts about some matter of personal interest to those who might be interested. Perhaps I sensed that my audience would be sympathetic; some would chime in with an empathetic response; yet others would add embellishments in their responses. I did not think this sentiment of mine would be greeted with disapproval; I think I anticipated approval. (Indeed, that is why, perhaps, I indulged in that little bout of composition or drafting in my mind, framing the written expression of my thought to make it appropriately irate or sarcastic.) Maybe the ensuing conversation would feature some cantankerous rants about the smartphone generation, about over-indulgent parents and pet-owners, all too busy texting, fretting over children and dogs and cats; perhaps some of my interlocutors would add witty tales of how, one day, in a urban encounter for the ages, they had stopped one of these offenders, and told them off with an artful blend of the scornful and witty.
I had been drafting a Facebook status, a tweet.
It was a revealing moment of sorts. It wasn’t the first time I had, on encountering something entirely weekday or quotidian, and yet, not unworthy of a mental response, suffered a brief emotional tic, and then found myself quickly formulating such a 140-character (or more, if intended for Facebook) summation of feelings at that instant. The world and its events and relations were, so to speak, so much raw material to be submitted to the formulation and framing of Facebook statuses and tweets. On most occasions, those thoughts don’t make it to the status or the tweet box. But sometimes they do.
The folks at Facebook and Twitter do seem to have achieved something remarkable: they have made their users regard the world as staging ground for inputs to their products.