Sometimes, e.g. when I look around a Skytrain car and see people’s faces lit in the unholy glow of iPad screens (see “Digital bedlam”)—when I notice the wires dangling from people’s heads, the animated conversations with invisible presences on the part of people sporting no visible gadgetry at all, the poke-poking and thumbing of games and messages and searches for the meaning of life—it seems to me that these changes in our behavior have been sudden. Just last week the world was identifiably the one I grew up in—people who spoke and gesticulated into thin air were nuts—but this week I’m living in a sci-fi world where all these people are crammed in here like sardines on this hot-season afternoon in Bangkok, and yet they aren’t really here. They’re clearly someplace else. And they’re in contact with wherever else they may be.
But the change hasn’t really been all that sudden.
I wrote “Getting Away from It All” back in the late 1980s. It provides a nice retrospective on the transition from portable tape players and multi-layered go-go bar cocoons to our current world, where easily 70 percent of the people on any given Skytrain car are plugged into smartphones and other digital devices, busily gaming, texting, browsing the Internet, listening to music and generally being anywhere except where they are now and doing anything except engaging with what’s right there in front of them. Some renegades instead watch the incessant commercial crap thoughtfully provided by the BTS on the double video screens they’ve installed in every car, not to mention the giant screens that monopolize the view at the Siam Station platform.
What’s interesting—all these changes are early days, and those still to come are bound to be more radical and even quicker to arrive.
Where will it all end, eh? Whither the individual, whither the collective? Whoa, and whatnot. Woe. Whatever.
Mass communion: Modern people worshipping their smartphones.
(The Telegraph article instead suggests they’re taking photos.)
“Getting away from it all” is a lesser chapter in Bangkok Knights (now out of print).