Something occurred to me yesterday as I was wandering amongst commuters, taking note of their mobile phone usage on the BART and MUNI lines heading into and out of San Francisco. I spent two hours on public transportation yesterday, and another few hours observing people at the mall. I'd jot down their age, their gender, the type of phone they were using, race (if I could venture a guess), and what they were doing on their mobile phones. This meant that I had to stand over many people's shoulders, awkwardly watching from above, hoping the subject wouldn't notice.
Oddly enough, no one noticed me. Ever. Not even in the mall when I edged up next to their bench, or in the food court when wandered up behind a whole group of tween boys, and especially not when I was on public transportation. Oh yeah, except for one kind, middle aged Indian man returning from SFO who offered me a seat. He didn't have his mobile phone on hand.
How is it possible that I could be observing hundreds of people from such close proximity, and only one of them notice me?
So I'll tell you a little of what I saw people doing, and perhaps this may serve to explain the conundrum. Earphones plugged in, they were obviously listening to something while texting, looking at other people's pictures on Facebook, thumbing through their emails, playing simple games, and a select few seemed to be reading the news. The MUNI snaked its way along the upper border of Dolores Park where the view of the city is breathtaking. I looked up from my clipboard and soaked in the view as we pounded down to the wakening Castro streets. I don't think many of them noticed the view, they were all looking at their phones.
I'm not here to write about the results of the research; that's going to be saved for a more professional blog on my sister work-blog site. Rather, I want to discuss the fact that ... everyone's going to work to create things for people, things that people will, ostensibly, like and use. And so they wake up, put in their earphones, drag themselves to the MUNI, and drown out the world with Podcasts and emails to friends, meanwhile thumbing through those friends' photos on Facebook.
Doesn't this just sound ... wrong? First of all, how can people enjoy a life like that? And second, why aren't people looking around anymore? It's like, reality just isn't good enough, it's better to see friends in short messages and candid photos. And if we're really creating things for other people, then why aren't we watching those other people, interacting with them, talking to them? Do we really think we're going to innovate in an office?
Later that night, I went home feeling uneasy. All that people watching served to depress me. I kept wondering what the world would be like today if we didn't have boring 9-5 jobs. Something tells me there would be a whole lot less emails and messages to people we don't have the time to see, less time spent in mindless games, and more time spent creating amazing things.