On a recent flight from Sydney to Melbourne, I was intrigued by the well dressed, educated man on the seat in front of me. He had a plethora of devices: iPhone, iPad, photocopied handouts of an alternative online newspaper, a print newspaper and the inflight magazine.
On the 80 minute flight he ploughed through everything before him. However, I was intrigued not only by the interactive magazine on his iPad but also by his obliviousness to all the passengers. As he constantly twitched, rubbed his hair and fidgeted, he also picked his ears on several occasions, pondered the wax on his fingertip and then ate it.
Not only was I disgusted and rather shocked – after all, this was no doddery old man with a pot belly and sprouting nose and ear hair who could be forgiven for senility. This guy was in his early 30s, well dressed and obviously conscious of style and image judging by his choice of black, well – fitted clothing. But picking earwax and eating it in public? Really? The image of a well-manicured and coiffed gentleman dissolved in an instant.
Here was a man so engrossed in technology that he didn’t realise he was snacking on waxy discharge in public.
This made me wonder why he believed he was invisible when there was clearly a planeload of passengers around him. A common complaint by midlife women is that they are invisible. However, I can almost guarantee that if a well-dressed, 50 year old woman started picking out her bodily bits to eat in public, people would certainly notice.
So what made this man think that he had entered a cocoon of privacy where he could eat and fidget away without anyone noticing? Does having a set of technological devices capture our attention so completely we forget the people surrounding us?
Partly it has something to do with the relationship we form with technology. We immediately personalize our new devices with passwords, photos, downloads and then engage quickly with social media.
Technology allows us to ignore outside stimuli so that we are immersed in a world where only two things exist: the interface and ourselves.
Technology is the perfect companion; it does what we want, when we want and where we want. We form a new reality and sense of being when we enter technology’s lure and, like the ancient Greek sirens, it is very hard, once ensnared, to let go.
The downside of technology is that we can become oblivious of our immediate surroundings, the existence of people and the environment.
Eventually the well-dressed man returned to reality when it was announced all inflight devices had to be switched off. He then picked up his newspaper and began to read. However, reading a newspaper doesn’t embrace us like technology and he stopped fidgeting and twitching, relaxed and looked around him.
It was too late though, his image was destroyed and I’ll always think of him as the man who ate his ear wax.