Tiny Screens

When people are grocery shopping with headphones on or when they’re totally absorbed in a text message conversation at the gym, I first thought such behavior simply annoyed me. I thought that these people’s disregard for their surroundings bothered me because it put more of what can only be described as dead weight in my path, forcing me to find a passage around inert obstacles that are unaware and unwilling to acknowledge my presence. Then I realized it wasn’t my forced reroute that troubled me but rather that first part—these folk’s lack of awareness.

The majority of people wearing headphones or lost in their phones in spaces where public, social interactions are de rigueur, these people broadcast a certain energy—one that says I have surveyed you, plebs forming my surroundings, and I find you utterly unworthy of my time or my attention. Let me clarify: for the purposes of this essay, I am altogether unconcerned by the changes to various etiquette, norms, and communication standards wrought by the modern technology and gewgaws with which we cocoon and distract ourselves. This is not a “kids these days” thing. My concern is different: the body is present but the spirit is elsewhere.

There is a scene in Pixar’s 2008 film Wall·E aboard a giant interstellar cruise ship. Mary, a human who represents the state of humanity, is blithely, completely unaware of her surroundings until a minor accident disables her heads-up communications screen.


She gazes about in astonishment: “I didn’t know we had a pool!” Pixar was not trying to be subtle here, and it’s a testament to the quality of their filmmaking that this scene played neither abrasive nor preachy.

So that’s all I wish, that the engrossed and distracted could realize the beauty, depth, quality, and vitality of what they are missing when they fixate on a tiny screen.

2 comments left



When I’m sitting on the bus to and from work, I’m much happier reading Game of Thrones on my Kindle (or a newspaper) and listening to music, than when I have to listen to the other passengers and the loud engine/traffic noises. I’ll probably miss this “personal absorption time” if I eventually get a car.

Excellent Pixar reference, though. Came for the Infinite Scrolling while at work, stayed a little longer for the writing :)

Edit: Your CAPTCHA is a fiendish beast!

Alexander Micek

Thanks for the kind words, Marc! I understand the occasional necessity of electronic isolation: the population density of the modern world requires modern solutions. Regardless, some project an air of openness to their surroundings, some an air of casual disregard and disdain. We get to choose.

Regarding the CAPTCHA, thanks for persevering. Due to page caching, I wrote the code to present it to the user only after their initial submission. The darker versus light letters could likely be overcome by another line or two of image processing, but if my site is ever subjected to that kind of refined OCR-based spamming, I’ll probably have to rethink the entire comment system!

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