BY: AUDRA LORD
This is an age of loneliness. This is what I’m thinking on the bus during my morning commute. I’m surrounded by a seawall of slack, blank faces, the impassive slate of cliffs. Nobody says a word; they just gaze into the cups of their palms, thirsty for plastic wisdom and blinky emoticons, which have mostly replaced emotions. Even liking something nowadays is a deliberate act.
Everyone is lost in the magic of tiny screens, wrapped in private thought bubbles, protected from the silence by noise-canceling earbuds, selecting the clatter of podcasts or the hum of iTunes over the warm body in the next seat. Their faces are still, but their fingers are industrious: it’s a factory of people engaged in the same repetitive swipes, clicks and taps, over and over and over again.
Aside from the tapping, nobody makes a sound.
It used to make me nervous, this wordless commute. I would pull out my phone and play a few half-hearted rounds of Scrabble or pretend to browse the news from New Zealand. Maybe I was trying to fit in, but it didn’t feel right, and it didn’t make me more comfortable, so I keep my phone in my bag now, and I look at everyone else. Nobody returns my gaze, and nobody says a word.
The woman next to me plays Candy Crush like her life depends on it. The guy in front of her is skimming a news site so fast he can’t be absorbing anything. This is the new channel surfing. This is today’s mindless time-killer. The only person whose face looks different is a Chinese kid in his late teens. Whatever he’s doing, he’s smiling, his features alive with delight. The things on his screen are real to him. I think of my students, sharing photos and finding common ground on YouTube, and I wonder why they can use these devices communally, to make each others’ worlds larger, but this bus full of adults cannot. Instead, we stay strangers, a nongroup of workers heading off into another day of keeping Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon in business, producing more disconnection and isolation.
Audra Lord is a playwright, ESL teacher, and word nerd based in Seattle, WA, current hub of the tech empire. Her original plays have been recognized by American Theatre magazine and The Dramatist journal as well as the Mid-America Theatre Conference and the Great Plains Theatre Conference, and have been produced in the US, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand. She is currently working on a memoir about life as an expat in a country not particularly impressed with America.