Some observations about lack of observation. Over the weekend my wife and I took a quick trip down to Florida and found ourselves at the sprawling Sawgrass Mills mall, just to kill some time before heading to the airport for our return to Detroit.
As we strolled down the outside section call The Colonnade we were approached by two friendly women who asked, “Hi! Are there any restaurants here?” Were they freakin’ kidding? All one had to do was lift one’s head beyond one’s smartphone and there, in front of your famished face, would be the site of no fewer than three restaurants.
I got thinking about this episode and how people have grown less observant in this era of almost constant focus on what’s on one screen or another, rather than what’s actually in front of our own two eyes, within earshot of our cochleas and just a sniff away from the assembly line of our olfactory nerves.
Example. Something bad happens. Any eyewitnesses? That’s the question police and journalists would ask. Police want to crack the case. Journalists want to tell the story. Eyewitness could provide valuable information. What did they see, hear, smell, notice? How about a description of the assailant or crook? Oh sure, eyewitnesses are still sought, but it’s more likely someone will step forward with a smartphone video or audio recording. Ask the person what happened and the answer probably will be, “Duh, I dunno, but I shot this video because I thought it would get a lot of views on YouTube or CNN would buy it. Here. Watch.” True, the video would surely be more accurate than someone’s recollections but it simply points to the fact we’re in a world now where electronic devices are doing the seeing and hearing for us with the information going to a memory card, instead of our memories.
In the workplace this lack of personal observation results in inability to sense a co-worker’s sentiments, whether it’s acceptance of an idea, willingness to contribute to a project or impending desire to commit the most serious workplace sin, cooking fish in the office microwave oven. Hmm..didn’t notice, but I got the feeling there may be a dead body in the office supply cabinet, which would make an awesome Instagram post.
I think of young children and what they’ll tell their kids. “Oh little Emma…my parents took me to the Thanksgiving Parade. They told me the floats were awesome. I don’t remember…I was tweeting about how much the butts of the mounted police horses stunk. Why don’t we go this year. You can Snapchat your friends with shots of Santa diddling his favorite elf…they’ll go viral!”
I grew up idolizing so-called “observational” comics like Woody Allen, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and much later, Jerry Seinfeld. They saw and heard things that went on in life, pointed them out, commented on them and turned them into hilarious routines delivered to live audiences by use of their mouths, enhancing their humor through vocal inflection, timing and physical gestures.
Nowadays, I fear to observe means to capture on a device, delivering that observation via unspoken words on the web and any laughter is the recipients private experience.
As the observational comic might ask, “What’s the deal with that?”
Almost two weeks into my voluntary unemployment, called, “retirement,” I’ve become all too familiar with a life form I’ll call DDS, “death deserving shoppers.” These are shoppers whose eyes are fixed-focused on their phones, whether plying the aisles of a store or navigating their way around a parking lot. Their eyes never leave their phones, even as they walk, blissfully blind about the possibility that oncoming vehicles will turn their smartphones, and bodies, into instant speed bumps. Where we once had the expectation that pedestrians would look both ways before crossing a roadway, and give way to cars and trucks that could impair their ability to reach their destination alive, now the DDS simply dive in, figuring the squeal of brakes, a flipping finger, maybe a horn honk would validate their selfish supposition motorists will do anything to work around them without causing fatalities. Actually, if you are, or know a DDS, you should know we motorists don’t care about avoiding your fatality. We are simply averse to all the paperwork.