“Hello, hello. Can you hear me?” the man says.
He removes the mobile telephone from his ear and looks wistfully at its display. Shrugs, and places it alongside the other phone and his tablet, laid expectantly on the train table in front of him.
Three communication devices and ironically he can’t.
Of course when that happens to us, we play that guessing game. Should I call them back, or wait a few moments in case they’re already dialling?
The desire to connect immediately is new to humanity.
I’ve never had a postal service representative knock on my door and say, ‘sorry, a colleague just tried to deliver your letter to Grace in Hull and she’s out.’ Nor do I feel the need to follow up my letter to Grace with another, sent next post, saying, ‘did you get my previous letter?’
We never needed phrases such as ‘offline’ or ‘out of office’ when communication simply involved speaking, reading or writing. People were either there in front of you, or they were left to choose when to digest your message. Without pressure. In their own time. No expectation.
A book doesn’t have sentences at the foot of the page such as ‘any questions so far?’ or ‘don’t turn the page if you haven’t followed the plot to date.’ Nor does it urge us to read the entire novel in one go.
Yet I’ve heard people say they struggle with Twitter because they don’t have enough time to read everything. Hours are spent thumbing the Facebook feed on our touch screen ever upwards, pausing briefly to look at Erin’s new pony, or read Graham’s latest holiday itinerary, or watch the video clip that one second earlier you didn’t even know existed, let alone that you needed to watch it, now.
Hello, I’m here now, tell me everything now. Don’t let me miss out on anything now.
The man opposite waits. Surely someone wants him?