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http://www.tumblr.com/video/bombtune/92773457393/500

Sometimes the adjacent trains zoom by so fast you can still see the other side, uninterrupted, just through two additional windows instead of one.

Passing Trains

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Grey over Blue on Flickr.
Grey over Blue on Flickr.
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Commuting Hands-Free

Commuting is an essential part of your day. What you do on the way to work can make you happy and set you in rhythm or put you in a bad mood.

I love riding the train and having the option to blog, read, social network, listen to music, sleep, or do work all on my Smartphone. I used to drive to work and have to wake up an hour early to get any of these done. Driving sucks, and not just because of the traffic.

I’d walk everywhere if I could and not just for the extra exercise. Walking is meditation, an opportunity to think and notice the abstract. I also use that time to take a lot of pictures.

Time is always running. I’d rather spend it doing something productive while moving to my destination at the same time.

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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.

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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.

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Train Watching

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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.

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

Ben Crair
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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.

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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.  

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Borrow my phone, borrow my life

People break their phones, lose their phones, and run out of power. It happens to everybody at least once.

When you’re the person that asks to borrow someone else’s phone on the train to make a call, you feel the their fear. Why would they trust a stranger with their phone, the hard drive storing their life?

The Smartphone is even more personal than a laptop or home computer. It holds just about everything. Allowing an unknown person to borrow it even for a minute is a quick judgement call. Trust your gut.

Of course, a lot goes into that gut decision. How familiar are you with that person? How did they behave before they asked to borrow your phone? Are they wearing a suit, jeans, or rags? Do they speak English? Does ethnicity impact your decision?

Everyone decides before they decide.. Knowledge and experience predict your bias. The only variables are understanding and guilt. Are we too quick to deny helping or are we too stupid and empathetic to give in only to be duped?

Thieves are just hackers that don’t know how to code. Yet their piracy is equally damaging and disruptive. Getting a new phone is like rebuilding a new life. It’s a lot of work even if most of your information is backed up in the cloud.

Be careful what you agree to. Saying “No” is not a copout; it’s just a way of playing it safe. Saying “Yes” is risky but potentially more satisfying. Helping makes anyone feel good.

Pity the fool for having any true feelings.

(Read more from the Train Diaries collection on Medium)