People Watching 2.0

Before we get going here,  it’s important to note this is an Op Ed piece.  It is in no way shape or form meant as a criticism of the current state of human interaction.  We all have our opinions on technology – is it good or bad as it relates to human relationships? Who really knows. This blog post takes a neutral (more or less) stance when it comes to this topic. Now on with the show.

I’ve always loved to people watch. I come by it honestly. My paternal grandmother admitted to having popped over to the airport from time to time, just to watch people. Observing little slice-of-life activities is grounding: Someone out for a walk. A person waiting to be picked up. These simple acts have always intrigued me.

I’d noticed over the past 10 years that those interactions or moments of introspection are fewer, and are most often coordinated with the monitoring of a phone. You don’t see people smiling & mumbling to themselves about happy wee interactions they’ve just had – instead they’re scrolling or clicking or reading. It’s not that their minds aren’t working, but they don’t appear to be:

portraits-holding-devices-removed-eric-pickersgill-30 copyPhotographer Removes Phones From His Photos To Show How Terribly Addicted We’ve Become

I now have a 2 year old and another on the way, so my listless people-watching opportunities have all but vanished. If I’m at a park, I’m making sure my two year old, Evan,  isn’t climbing something too big – or putting something too small in her mouth. If I’m at the airport, God forbid, I’m stopping her from running into people traffic or licking the chairs.

I’ve had a two year hiatus from people watching – until last night.

I had a rare 2-hour window to myself that didn’t need to be filled with work, or an errand, or the overwhelming need for a nap. And it was a hot, sunny, summer night. Perfect time to dust off the ol’ people watching 996 New Balances and hit the dusty road.

New Balance 996

Trusty New Balance 996

I went out of the house, intent on seizing the moment. I drove to Dee Dees Ice Cream on Cornwallis, parked the car, got my three scoops (which I immediately dripped on my big ol’ belly) and walked into the Halifax Commons. (The Commons is like New York’s Central park, for you non locals)

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 1.39.07 PM@innisbrian

At 7 o’clock on a Monday night, the park is swinging, especially when it’s not raining and hot, which tonight was. At first glance, it looked identical to how it looked 2 years earlier.  I sat down quietly by the fountain with an Economist Magazine and took in the sites and sounds.  There were two co-ed ball games going on, a group of yogis enjoying some fresh air & a relaxed practice on multicoloured mats. Couples walking from tennis, people walking dogs, kids riding bikes and roller blades. It was a veritable cornucopia of activity.

And then I leapt into a less familiar future.

A loud buzzing at my ear made me swipe the bee (maybe three bees?) from my ear. Turning to see if I’d deterred the bee, I saw a drone, hovering about 4 feet above me – a white, Construx looking, staring camera was reading over my shoulder. It buzzed off moments later, taking in the fountain and the ball game next.

The drone continued to maneuver around for about 20 minutes, scooting from one scene to the next, and ultimately going away as the sun dropped behind the buildings.

It’s then that the Pokemoners arrived.  So many Pokemoners.

I had parked myself off the path near the central fountain. Safely I had assumed. Until people began to walk towards me, zombie like, looking at their phones and I realized despite the belly, the magazine, the purse and the dregs of melted ice cream that I soon could be trampled.  I knew right away what was happening – but if I hadn’t, I’d have assumed they’d traveled to that location to come show me something astounding on their phone (so direct was their path).  I was curious to see if or when they noticed me.  Spoiler: They did not.

The 3 must-have-been-teenaged boys (2 over 6 feet tall and 1 about 5’2, all chain smoking) walked around me for 15 minutes. And then a middle aged woman arrived with a dog and, her phone on full volume, circumnavigating me and the boys – dinging and collecting whatever she needed. In the end, there were maybe a dozen zombies, oops, I mean people come and go in the proceeding 45 minutes.

Pokémon stampede

And, honestly, I felt annoyed by all this swarming of people, and bells, and drones.  I felt my personal space was infringed upon, my rare and precious personal time hijacked by mindless, automated strangers.

So I did what any self-respecting pregnant woman would do. I followed up my ice cream with a veggie-sushi chaser.  I went to Hamashi Kita to get a couple rolls and sit on the patio. And it was from this vantage point , when I was no longer in the Pokemon field of play, that I realized that my experience at the Commons was people-watching 2.0. I just needed a safe place and a dynamite roll to come to this conclusion.

The park in front of the Hydrostone Market in Halifax is apparently replete with “lures”.  And the Pokemoners came in droves. Everyone. And I mean everyone, from disaffected teenagers, to scensters with musical instruments shooting out of their backpacks, to cyclists who pulled over to collect their wares, to parents and kids pulling up in minivans.

 As I scarfed my rolls, I loved it.

The people watching was spectacular.  The Pokemoners doing a delicate waltz, brought together on the dance floor for a common purpose, but somehow never colliding.  The patio dwellers knowing that they’re witnessing a phenomenon – some scoffing, some asking others to explain what they were seeing.

And there was a young girl (3 years old, maybe?) who was getting pushed on the swing in the park, and I watched her, watching the Pokemoners.  And I knew she was working it out. Who were these people? What were they doing?

It’s next generation people watching.  Watching people interact with each other and technology. The key, for me, is just a better vantage point (and food, apparently).