Those were the days when computer technology was still in its infancy and probably to a large extent still in the womb. Mobile phones were the size of bricks and were used purely to phone somebody. Computers were things that were the size and weight of a small fridge and were shared by a whole corridor of offices. When we finally progressed to one computer per room it was like a brave new world. We didn't even dream of one computer per desk in those days. Even so there was no internet, so the computers were there to crunch out numbers or data or to use as word-processors. A printer was not even in the same room, so often you would send a message to print something and hope, fingers crossed, that when you had hiked halfway across the building and down into the basement, you had something to collect at the end of it.
Having now spent a good few years out of the commuter environment, I have had reason recently (because of hospital appointments) to catch the train a few times into the heart of London in the rush-hour. Oh my word, what a difference. Of course the delays and cancellations don't change; nor the excuses of this or that on the line; nor the mad scramble for the door when the train pulls in. But what has changed are the commuters. It is like entering a strange planet where people stare zombie-like into screens. On a recent trip I observed that EVERYONE in the carriage had an oblong device in their hand - some about 5 x 3 inches or some about 8 x 6 inches into which they stared. They used their fingers to brush off invisible crumbs on it in a sort of swiping action or to press buttons which would show up dancing candy or photographs. Some even watched moving pictures which looked suspiciously like Eastenders or Game of Thrones. Some appeared to have bits of string coming out of their ears and these were connected to the screens. As we pulled into stations, there were more people standing around on the platforms doing the same, staring into their hand-held screens. All had heads bent down, staring towards their laps. Nobody, but nobody (except me, of course) stared out of the window and watched real life pass by. I wondered if I were to ask any one of them to tell me what colour the sky was that day or describe the houses they had just passed, whether any one of them could answer correctly. Do they spend their whole life staring at screens? Will they die being totally unaware of real life around them? Do they not notice the seasons changing or streets being demolished and rebuilt? I honestly felt I was surrounded by zombies.
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Out on the street, as I pondered this modern phenomenon, a woman walked towards me, head buried in her screen, string coming out of her ears, and, if I had not been the one to move, we would have collided. Brave new world indeed.