I work in a small-scale downtown area now. I commute to and from work on a bus. I see a lot of people every day, scurrying from place to place. Everyone seems to have earbuds jammed into their ears, with ubiquitous white cords dangling down to connect them to "their music", the soundtrack to their lives that makes them the individual they are - along with the millions of others making identical choices. So many of them are simultaneously scrolling through e-mail messages on their iPhone or Blackberry or Android, furiously tapping out a text message, or browsing something on the web.
They're completely cut off from their surroundings, any random contact with people around them, snug in a digital cocoon.
The ear buds and extreme focus make me think of that 60s rock opera "Tommy":
He ain't got no distractions
Can't hear those buzzers and bells
Don't see lights a flashin'
Plays by sense of smell
Always gets a replay
Never tilts at all
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball
It drives me crazy to see someone on a bicycle with ear buds in. Hearing what's going on around me is a key component of keeping myself safe when I ride.
It's always someone else that's interesting in this cocoon: the person you could be talking to. Anyone within reach is fair game to be ignored or interrupted in favor of the next incoming packet of stimulation.
All this technology is re-wiring us and re-writing the rules of etiquette for social interaction. Sometimes it's good, but not always.