Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Island Living

"Language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction"

Harold Pinter

There are two ways of leaving an island. By air or by sea. Being as close to my usual destination (Auckland) as I am , the sea is my normal mode of transport. It is a calming 35 min journey, unless the northerly kicks up, and then there are a few white faces. The boats are generally on the hour, and during holidays they are overflowing with tourists, daytrippers, townies, as well as locals just trying to get home or to work.

Saturday morning at 8 is not generally a busy time to leave the island. Nevertheless, the coffee kiosk had its usual line up of bleary eyed suspects, including me, and the goth-esque teen with a coin-sized ring through his lip was doing his best to keep up. Still, the minutes ticked away until departure...6,5, then 4. the ferries don't care if you have a warm drink or not. I felt the pang of a combined caffeine need with missing-the-boat anxiety. Not pretty. Naturally I had already paid for my latte, and no one in their right mind would buy coffee on board, so the situation was quickly becoming dire. Other java-heads were also nervously watching the clock, the boat, and him in sustained glances that quickly became agitated. Juggling my laptop, paper, suitcase and coffee while producing my ticket is an act worthy of more practice, but in the end barista boy pulled his Heavy Metal hands into gear, and we were away on time, with a thundery downpour adding to the drama of a simple trip into town on a Saturday morning.

They say that one of the definitions of karma is "that which arranges your priorities" for you. That may be so. Those things which are most important should never be sacrificed for those which are least. Between the boat and the coffee however, there was a real dilemma: I needed both. A big shout out to "coffee guy". He jumped right into my karmic field of action and arranged my priorities for me. Nice one.

Among the more interesting social epidemics I follow in my role as an unofficial observer of humanity in action is what I call the "personal space syndrome". It is very evident with early morning ferry commuters, as well as pedestrians. Many are plugged into their media of choice, usually by earphones, with a signal to all that says "I am engaged". On the other hand, so much can be missed without a connection to the immediate environment. I was looking all around me, at the sea, the people, and the other islands as we sailed by, feeling the story behind each. They all have one.

Walking up the busiest street in downtown Auckland is an exercise in avoiding contact. Not just eye contact, but full physical. Some are talking on their cellphones, some are texting, some are listening to their iPods, and some are doing a combination of all three. Not many are aware of their surroundings. Pity the marketer in the 21st century. How to connect with these people? They don't watch commercial TV, they don't buy CD's anymore, and their world is made up of all that is digital/personal/virtual/mobile. What will they buy? More devices to stay connected? Perhaps. But to what are they connecting?

I probably sound old fashioned in championing the art of conversation and social engagement outside the digital realm. Imagination plays a big part in this practice of participatory observing, and judgement must cast aside to be effective. Apparently there is a world wide "Slow Life" movement, incorporating Slow Cities, and Slow Food, etc. I say good work. So much is missed when one is in a hurry. The seductive idea of being fully present in our daily life brings with it an image of expanding our awareness, and in the process becoming a better human being. Not a bad trade off for missing a boat or a coffee. Or both.

No comments: