Recently I have been suffering from a splinter in my head, which prods into my thoughts when I’m on the metro, on my way to the university. “Are we still living in the same world?” I will ask myself whenever I look at my fellow commuters.
The majority of them are busy staring at small screens. They don’t look up from their screens, much less meet a fellow commuter’s eye. Of course, this is nothing new, but I do wonder where this type of behaviour came from. Maybe this phenomenon quietly snuck into our habits during the course of history.
I myself mainly see cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard’s absurd propositions become reality when I observe my fellow commuters. According to this man’s somewhat fatalistic notions, we are living in a hyper reality, since our realities are being determined by screens. Our telephones are constantly being optimised to create a better connection between people – that is, greater connectedness in an online world. Things that happen on our phones are brought to life, but at the same time, the lives of other people – for instance, the persons sitting next to us on the metro – disappear from view.
Above the entrance to Rotterdam Central Station’s metro station, there is a quote by Erasmus: “Space separates our bodies, but not our minds.” Ironically, things actually appear to be the other way round in reality. During the rush hour in particular, there is hardly any space separating people’s bodies, but their minds are clearly miles apart from each other.
I can be standing right next to someone and yet experience a tremendous distance. The number of screens around me is stopping me from striking up a friendly conversation with the person seated next to me. So I will quickly crawl back into my own cocoon, thinking, “I may just ride my bike to uni tomorrow.” But the next morning, I will bravely find my way to the metro again, if only to see if Erasmus was right, in order to blithely continue my quest for connectedness.
Because if any place could do with slightly more connected minds, it is the metro.