I live in Sussex County, Delaware, the most rural of our state’s three counties. Transplanted voluntarily from the the more urban/suburban New Castle County, I quickly began to appreciate and marvel at the genteel, rural charm and nature of the people here, who are openly friendly to strangers. These rural inhabitants, who are jokingly (and somewhat derisively) referred to as “slower lowers” are the kind of folks who will introduce themselves on the phone, chat with you for a bit, before getting down to business. A little friendly chat never hurt anyone.
Admittedly, some of this ruralness has rubbed off and I am glad of it. When my daughter moved to New York City, got married and had a baby boy, my first grandchild, it became more convenient for me to visit her than the other way around. Out of necessity, I learned how to do the whole subway thing.
What I was struck by, in those frequent rides on the N train from Manhattan to Astoria, was that no one talked to each other during the commute. Anything to avoid eye contact, let alone a real conversation. I remember paying a compliment to a young lady sitting to my right – admiring her choice of shoes, only to feel an elbow jab in my left side as my daughter admonished,
“Ssssh, mom,” No one does that up here!” <<eyeroll>>
My naive attempt at being friendly in NYC was not appreciated by the stranger on the right who simply smiled and shrugged, embarrassed my daughter on the left, and evidently ID’d me throughout the train as a tourista, a much maligned urban nightmare infamous for slowing down the sidewalk traffic as they take in the sights and sounds of America’s largest city in utter wonderment.
Awakened to these new realities, I began to notice the obvious. Almost everyone had their heads buried in a device, with a cord running up to both ears. A few had Kindles or Nooks. But mostly smart devices. A few people put back their heads, sans pillow, closed their eyes in an attempt to capture a few of those famous New York minutes of glorious REM sleep.
I never noticed that hardly anyone was reading a book. Dutch photographer Reinier Gerritsen did, who as the following article states, “spent 13 weeks over 3 years scouring the subway system of New York City for riders reading books. His book, The Last Book, captures the phenomenon.
How interesting that reading books is now a significant deviation from the norm! My daughter rarely pulls out her cell phone on the subway, but it is for a different reason. As a young mother, she is unable to freely chase a thief that might snatch a valuable cell phone out of her hands right before the subway doors open. With a toddler in tow, she has more than enough on her hands to occupy her brief subway rides.
I adore my tablet and iPhone. I appreciate the convenience of my Kindle, but nothing can replace holding a real book, feeling the texture of the bond paper in between my fingers, and the relaxation I derive from fidgeting with the corner pages when I am deep in concentration. I resolve to read more in public, so that young people know it used to be an American pastime.
Imagine, in the world of smart, reading the old fashioned way is a dying art.
“Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives, and I decline
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” – R.E.M.