Open office spaces are very au courant. They are all about collaboration and breaking down hierarchies, but they end up being insulating. Because headphones.
You walk up and start “collaborating” to a colleague with their face in a computer screen. No response. You say their name. No response. You say their name louder. No response. You tentatively tap their shoulder, like some creeper. The colleague jumps out of their chair while pulling at the string around their neck to pull the bud out of their ear. Then they profusely apologize as you interrupt with your own set of “sorries.”
Meanwhile the person in close quarters NOT wearing headphones is totally disturbed and now reaches in their desk for something to plug into their speakerboxx thereby closing themselves off from the collaboration.
It’s worse than that.
I’m walking The Dog. It’s stunningly beautiful–sunny and warm. We stop frequently and at length so he can smell the hell out of every last blade of grass and dandelion to be. I spy a guy with a dog a block down. Those of you who are not dogwalkers may not realize that you must be ever vigilant for other creatures–squirrels, cats, birds, skateboards, baby carriages and dogs–just in case someone decides to bolt. You work to get the attention of The Dog as you choke up on the leash preparing for a burst of muscle that taxes your own.
As the guy approaches, The Dog notices the other. I’m prepped. The guy gets closer and asks me, “Is this your dog?”
Odd, but I’m like, “Well, yeah, I’m walking him.” I’m thinking he’s wondering if The Dog is friendly. We are close to the physical rendezvous, and he leans away a little as his dog with his waggy tail tries to make contact.
Guy is looking straight at me, and I start to tell him that The Dog is friendly. He abruptly waves me aside while telling me, “I’m on the phone.” I hear him say something about being “right in front of your house. I thought he got away. Where should I go?” He hadn’t been talking to me at all. He was asking somebody else about a dog. I didn’t see the telltale cord, but, as I dragged The Dog past, I saw his earbuds. I hope he reunited the other dog with his family.
He was disconnected from our false encounter while making a connection somewhere else.
There’s a great outside service window at the local watering hole, restaurant and grill. I perched on a stool at the smoothed concrete bar because the billowing smoker beckoned me to beer and BBQ.
A woman asked me if the seat next to me was available and settled in. She left the menu alone and began flipping through on her phone. I turned to the friendly people on my right who were downright hysterical pontificating on the different styles of sauce, bracket deadlines and other trivial matters.
The bartender approached the phone clutching patron for her order. The woman was unresponsive. Bartender looks at me to make sure that she was in fact making sounds when she was speaking. I indicated that she indeed was. We shared the moment of realization that you couldn’t hear if you were wearing headphones. Again, the headphones. Self-isolation from the surrounding conviviality.
The woman looked at the bartender and pulled out the bud. She ordered a house white. Then she put the earpiece back in and went back into herself. A few minutes later I heard her emotionally asking her phone, “Is that how you are treating me?” She was talking to someone who wasn’t there.
I didn’t want to eavesdrop on her pain. The conversation must have ended because she stopped talking. She kept flipping. I wish she took out the noise-cancelling and secluding earphones. I wish that she could have joined in the moment that was around her. Mostly, I wish she’s going to be okay since I somehow connected with her even though she doesn’t know.