The last few years, I’ve noticed Sacramento getting less and less crowded. People are going away.
I recently sat in my doctor’s waiting room with five other people. They were all poking, stroking or caressing their phones. None of them were present, really. With two of them facing me, two beside me and one behind me, I did something I only do when I’m alone. I picked my nose.
More and more often, I sit in a coffee shop, at the barber’s, the library, or just walk down the street and find non-present phone people all around me. They might as well be trees, or pebbles or a dog’s gift to the lawn. They simply do not count in the equation of my life.
At first, people hunched over a phone seemed gray to me. I saw them as placeholder where a potential person might appear, but as they never actually arrived, they began to fade – first becoming translucent and now pretty much transparent. For the most part, they don’t exist for me at all.
Phone people are not attractive, or elegant or sexually interesting; they don’t inspire me to wonder what their business is, what books they’ve read, or what their opinion might be of a mixed martial arts match between Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher. I’m not fascinated by ghosts.
Phone people are not threatening. If West Sacramento has a problem with gangs, they might consider a guns-for-smartphone exchange program with the Broderick Boys. Suck the gangstas into the world that doesn’t exist, and you’ll never hear from them again.
While I find that I give corporeal people space when I pass or sit near them, I don’t bother with phone people. If I bump into one of them, they don’t even look up. Apologizing makes no sense, so I don’t. If the room is empty except for a phone person, I can take the seat next to them without notice. I’m tempted to try the experiment again after not bathing for two weeks, but I don’t like smelling myself after that long.
Even I think it’s a little odd that I’m more alarmed by a squirrel trying to dash across a busy road than I am by a person on a phone wandering into traffic. It would certainly thin out the herd, and leave more physical room for those of us who are too poor, too crazy, or just too in love with the world to own a smartphone.
My $9.99 phone allows me to text. It’s awkward and time-consuming, so I don’t do it very often. Recently, I sat in a room waiting for a meeting to start, and saw a friend sitting 12 feet away with her head bowed, tracing designs on the screen of her phone with her finger.
I texted: “I’m sitting across the aisle from you on your left.” She sat bolt upright, looked around the room for the first time in 10 minutes, saw me, smiled, jumped up and gave me a hug. Sometimes the vague can solidify.
Yes, yes, people having conversations on their phones in public places are rude. But I find vague people are not rude, because they lean into their phones and simply evaporate. Who can be offended by empty space?