I made a long train journey recently, on my own, not something I really enjoy. It’s stressful, the waiting around, making sure I don’t lose things, Minding the Gap. It’s much nicer to have someone with me, lifting my case on and off the rack, and helping me into my coat at the other end. And I much prefer congenial company, even in the Quiet Carriage. I avoid the Noisy Carriage if possible – that is unless I have a pressing need to inform someone ‘I’m on the train!’
This time all is peaceful and I’m indulging my addiction to day-dreaming. I look around and see that everyone else has headphones on. It was the same on the street, the platform, even the ladies’ toilet. People are wired in surgically to their own little worlds.
How long before we evolve specially adapted ear-lobes, or grow interface portals, or even in-t’face portals (sorry Lancashire dialect), I’m thinking. Then I remember Star Trek – Spock’s neural stimulator, and Data, the robot man, who has a kind of cat-flap on the back of his head. There’s a particularly riveting episode where all the characters get hooked into virtual reality – headpieces locked into the pleasure centres of the brain; it’s all a dastardly plot by Aliens to take over the world. Of course it is – it’s Star Trek.
We’re getting close, I’m thinking. Everyone plugged in, walking round like zombies, staring at handsets, even the oldies sometimes. It’s a wonder we don’t see more accidents when pedestrians forget to look where they’re going, or stop to take a call in the middle of the road. There are warnings out now, about the Pokemon game. Perhaps there should be warnings about Aliens.
To me it’s all a kind of security, being in touch with one’s nearest and dearest, or the comfort of favourite music. You slip your headphones in/on and retreat, blocking out alien intrusion. Travelling through space and time at Warp Factor 9, but no need to engage – no need to catch the eye of a street beggar, or a nutter, or hold the door for someone, or help an old person across the road. Add sunglasses and you’re totally beamed up to another planet.
All this traipses idly through my brain as I pretend not to watch the young girl in the seat beside me, scrolling through stuff on her tablet. I find other people’s screens, unlike their phone conversations, immensely interesting.
I half notice as she gets out a packet of sweets and opens it. She turns to me and offers me one. Startled, I refuse politely. Then I wish I hadn’t. I quite like wine gums. Perhaps she thinks I’m being rude – an old fuddy-duddy who probably believes a tablet is something you take for a headache.
That sets me another question. Would I have taken the sweet, with its opportunity for conversation, an exchange of friendliness, if my fellow passenger was nearer to my own age? Probably yes, I find myself thinking. I can talk quite comfortably to my own generation.
I sneak a sideways look at my companion and wish I’d noticed before, something unexpected, unbelievable even. She isn’t wearing any headphones.
Too late, the sweets have been stowed away safely in her bag.
Never mind -I think – Wine gums are always a bit of a disappointment.