As he sat on the train a few days later, perusing the reports he had to digest ahead of the meeting he was travelling to, Tim glanced around at his fellow passengers. Engaged in conversation on mobile phones, tapping out text messages, watching DVDs on laptops and portable players, or otherwise cut off from the rest of the world by their iPods, Tim realised something he already knew but had never felt so aware of before: that everyone was so wrapped up in their own technological bubbles that all sense of community, or free interaction, had been lost. In subscribing to this conformist culture, Tim was engaged in active complicity in the reproduction of the circumstances of his own alienation. He hadn’t signed into Facebook for a while now, and while it was impossible not to check his emails – even a few hours off-line instilled an uneasiness in his stomach and caused his tension levels to increase – he was managing to resist the urge to respond to everything straight away, to click the links on every forward, even to read them all. But the nagging knowledge that there were missives demanding his attention remained in the background, and the flagged and unopened emails mounting up were impossible to forget about completely. He was appreciating the time and freedom to soak in his surroundings a little and to observe from a slightly different perspective but he didn’t exactly feel liberated either: far from it, in fact.
Just then, he noticed it. Sticking out from between a couple of reports, he saw a yellowy-coloured piece of paper. Its corner was slightly dogged. He lifted the report to see what it was. The pamphlet again. How had it go in with that pile of papers? he wondered. Concluding he must have put it down and then picked it up by accident when moving other stuff around, he paused to re-read some of it as he went to move it out of the way, then read on just a little.
For all of the above, allow yourself to reply to any incoming messages, and continue work-related activity as normal (failure to do so may prove damaging to your career). These directions apply only to non-essential outgoing social contact (Obviously, if you’re in the middle of a breakdown, then it’s reasonable to apply these instructions to all contacts as a blanket rule).
You may permit yourself three individuals who are exempt. These must be people who you know will respond to your emails or text messages or will answer or return your calls, and within a reasonable timescale. Two days to respond to a text, or a week to respond to an email is not acceptable. These technologies are all about instant communications, remember! Everyone else in your contacts lists, address book, are off limits. Do NOT contact them. Wait for them to contact you.
Tim needed to clear his head. Perhaps he did need to wholly liberate himself as the pamphlet suggested. As he passed the houses, he was able to see the outlines of figures moving inside, moving silhouettes, people’s actions projected like life-size shadow-puppetry. Some had not closed their curtains, or had just opened them, suggesting that dawn was just around the corner and they were making ready for work or whatever. As he wandered past these little compartmentalised lives visible through real-life television screens, he was able to look into their living rooms and bedrooms. He felt nothing, a complete detachment. It didn’t feel wrong. He didn’t feel nosey. He didn’t feel as though he was in any way spying into their homes or voyeuristically peeping into their private lives. Separated by the glass and the distance and the still, dead air, cold and silent, it was like watching television on mute. His presence went unnoticed as they played out their parts. He was simply a viewer, not participating or interacting in any way. Was this liberation?
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