FaceTime and the Perils of Public Discourse

The theme of mobile open dialogue and Internet browsing is trending. I partly blame FaceTime and mobile video conversation for this emergence.

As a daily train commuter, I see a lot of the ways people deal with technology. And by far the most invasive development of them all is FaceTime.

FaceTime allows iPhone users to chat face to face on their mobile devices. While this is fantastic for home and work conversations, bringing family and colleagues into your space, it’s typically a nuisance for everyone else if used in public.

FaceTime is training users that it’s ok to broadcast live video out loud, including YouTube. Yesterday, one man on my train was blasting a movie preview on YouTube. The guy behind him was talking to his wife on FaceTime about dinner plans. Thankfully someone had the courage tell them both to quiet down.

If you’re going to chat, watch online videos and movies or listen to music, the proper etiquette is to use headphones. We already overhear enough banter as it is; we certainly don’t need to know what you’re doing tonight or what movie you’ll illegally BitTorrent next.

Unfortunately, I think technology continues to evolve like a Google Hangout where everyone gets included on the conversation by default. Before, we were just spying on each other. Now we can’t figure out a away to get away from each other.


Writing into a Wall

Ideas can be sticky. Too sticky. The last few months I’ve been working on a book called Train Diaries, based off a series of posts on Medium.

After rereading the first draft last night, I immediately felt agitated. I felt like I was forcing myself to publish a book on an idea just because I did months of work.

Sometimes, you can’t see the whole product until you put the pieces together.

Don’t get me wrong: I still think using the train as a metaphor to predict the evolution of technology and social media makes sense. A lot of the things that happen on the train eventually happen at large.

But quitting can be an absolute relief, especially since I’m not even sold on the book. I’m actually just going to let this concept sit. It may just be a chapter of another book. I always go back to Seth Godin’s advice:

“Don’t publish everything you write, but the more you write, the more you have to choose from.”

My first draft is shit. I’m not going to force oil under a rock for a book that has already has a small digital shelf life.

Books are like my little startups. And just like that , I’m moving on to the next one.


Tunnel Vision

Losing cell reception in the Grand Central tunnel is liberating. One can dive into their own thoughts for about seven minutes without being interrupted by a push messages, SMS, or calls.

Yet there’s always a few passengers though poking their browser’s refresh button trying to force a single bar of reception.

Internet connectivity is like water, free and accessible everywhere. We can drink a lot of it, all day, but only so much as our body permits. Remove it completely and we die.

The Internet works the same way. Turning off the Internet makes you appreciate it more. We should be thankful when we’re forced to disconnect.

The Internet is the modern day railroad, a massive transformation in the way we communicate and get stuff done. Creation, distribution, marketing, and disruption literally sit in the palm of your hand.

But we still need more tunnels, more opportunities to unmoor from the anchors of technology so we can recharge and appreciate its power. We need to use the Internet judiciously.

Technology is always on. Our brains require sleep to rewire. Take a break every once in a while. It’s ok to be thirsty.


Being First

Competition results from a combination of getting ahead and the fear of missing out.

As soon as one person gets ready to depart the train, they all do. No one wants to be last even though exiting the train is a process of seconds no matter how big the line is.

In the movie Talladega Nights Ricky Bobby admonishes, “If you’re not first, you’re last.” Train passengers literally hold the same mentality.

The subconscious is always competing with others. Getting ahead is an animalistic urge, as is the emulation of just keeping up with the rest of them; not everyone wants to lead the pack but they certainly refuse to fall behind.

A superiority complex guarantees a life of constant fear and stress. Pace prolongs progress. It’s better to store energy for the life events that really matter. Pick the right battles.

The only real competition is within the self, to achieve greater personal growth.

Arts Culture Photography

Train Watching

Image by Wells Baum

“There are few places more sedentary than a train car; there are also few better ways to see the world.” — Ben Crair

Riding the train is like being in a moving library with crowds of people sitting in proximity to each other but deeply immersed in their own thoughts.

The train paces itself like the mind. Ideas flow the longer they sit, building stronger connections as the train swiftly passes over the tracks. Bad ideas get tossed when the train wobbles left to right, like plunging water from the ears.

We have no choice but to sit and let our minds wander on the train. Constriction forces creativity. The luckiest passengers get a window seat to watch the world zoom by. Beautiful reflections bounce off the surrounding trees and walls of graffiti, temporarily tattooing the faces and arms of some passengers. Everyone shines like an artist, famous for 15 seconds.

“The road is better than the end.” — Miguel de Cervantes

The train travels ahead with time, as do our fast-paced lives. We actually soak up the entire riding experience but mentally star the highlights. All of a sudden the future and the past become the present.We are here now.


The Ebb and Flow of Train Chatter

If you take a snapshot of train chatter you’d see that it gradually rises from the morning on, peaking in the evening. Even the uptick in sound between 7 and 8AM is noticeable.

People care less about you and more about their own privacy in the morning. Direct conversations are virtually disallowed, as are phone calls. Texting is the preferred method of all interaction.

The most significant noise makers in the mornings are the squealing and grinding of the train tracks competing against the loud overhead fans.

As the afternoon approaches the train gathers less people but louder mouths. Feet make their way on the seats. Cell phones ring. Headphone music gets louder. Laissez-faire defines the afternoon.

The evening, especially Friday evening, is a bit of a free for all. The work stops, the drinks pop, the mobile fingers get more aggressive as people respond across social networks and like everything in their feed. Everyone knows each other’s weekend plans.

People unwind as the days lives on; the rules get looser with time. Life resets daily with the emergence of noise.


Stuck in the Bathroom

Stuck in the bathroom is one thing; stuck in a train bathroom is hell.

Imagine the world moving outside while you painfully suffer in immobility surrounded by heat and grime.

On the outside, fellow passengers are trying to help you escape. Other passengers sit and watch avoiding embarrasment; after all, no one wants to help a person escape from a train bathroom.

The conductor is nowhere to be found. Two minutes turn into a lifetime, every second is a battle of patience and hope.

Confinement is stressfull. It doesn’t matter how big or small the cage is; no one, not even animals, like to be locked up for any reason. The freedom to move boundlessly is a human right.

The train tracks tick like years off a clock. We all want to leave in a dent on society before our last train stop. But sometimes we can’t do it alone.

(as seen in the Metro North Diaries collection on Medium)


Unnecessary Urgency

We all want to get ahead, be first. But with more speed comes more stress. This mentality can even turn friends into antagonists.

Unassigned seating produces a game of Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest.” Every passenger is protective of their seat because of the intense work it takes to find one. Every second of hesitation counts.

Seating is just step one in the process of urgency. People then pull out their phones and melt into their own worlds. Now they want to be first online; the first to like or comment on a Instagram post, the first to tweet breaking news.

The rapid pace of the Internet makes passengers even more tight and agitated. Even the slightest foot or elbow into someone’s pathway ignites hatred: “This is my space. Step back.”

The fear of missing out (Fomo) makes people mean. It makes train passengers compete for seat; it makes Internet users compete over engagement.

Take a step back. Maybe even just stand and turn the phone off, getting away from all the noise and unnecessary jealousy and rage.

You can try to get ahead but it’s really not saving you that much time, nor does being first make a significant impact on your life or anyone else’s; it’s just selfish. Wind down, relax.


Short on Cars

Riding a train short in cars turns everyone into a sardine. People are forced to squeeze together, touching elbows and pant legs, holding bags on their lap.   

Like a social network, when you constrain comfort for usability people get frustrated.  Everything becomes an annoyance:  the ubiquitous ads on the train’s walls, the $250 monthly train pass, the sounds of the train collector’s ticket punching, and the sporadic passenger conversations left and right.    

People hate noise and clutter.  That’s why so many users left MySpace for Facebook.  Myspace was a wasteland where page personalization, banners, and widgets created design disorder and chaotic functionality.  Facebook provided a clean, standardized experience, a closed environment where Facebook’s design control benefited the user experience.     

Fast forward to today, however, and Facebook is becoming more like the old Myspace.  Realizing that real-time conversation is what really drives ad dollars, Facebook is desperate to emulate the openness of Twitter.  Over the last couple weeks, Facebook has welcomed hashtags and image uploads within comments.  

Openness goes against Facebook’s roots as a private social network.  By cramping the platform with more open communication layers it’s severely limiting the user experience. 

People want clean space.  People want to be in their own world.  People want sufficient space so they can sit next to open seats and relax.  

Sometimes constriction is a force of creativity; sometimes it forces unnecessary angst.  You don’t want your passengers and users hating each other, hating the platform, hating the employees who work on it, and getting off to a bad start or end to their day.  

Keep it clean, keep it sleek.  Let people breathe.  


One Foot In, One Foot Out

There’s always one person who sticks their foot inside the train doors as soon as they open.

Marking your territory preempts other boarding passengers from getting ahead. It also makes it more difficult for those exiting the train.

There’s a big difference between being aggressive and cheating just to get ahead.

Playing by the rules means that participants have to play harder, think smarter, and prepare one step ahead. The first step to fair advancement is ensuring that you show up on time, even before everyone else.

Cutting corners, fence sitting with one foot on the train and another foot on the track, is a sure way to win nothing but a little extra convenience for your impatience and creating a lot of danger for others coming out the opposite way. Stay in your lane.

Everyone is equal at the start. Naturally, some play wiser and act quicker than others. Proper urgency begets evolution.

If you want to advance, do it the right way. Make preparations. Do it with equanimity. And occasionally, do it for someone else. Give up your seat to someone who really needs it more, like that old lady.

Cheaters never win; they just make other people mad. Know your place and stay within the boundaries.