Tonight on the T, between Central and Davis, I saw a peculiar sight. Two young women were sitting across the car from me to the right. One had red hair pulled back in a ramshackle bun, the other, straight dark hair half-up (though in the overly shiny fashion of girls who get pregnant in high school, not in the matte, swishy fashion of attractive hippie women). They both wore conventional coats, conventional pants, and conventional boots. They both carried conventional purses. They also both carried smartphones. Not only did they carry smartphones, but they were absorbed in the smartphones, apparently playing games. Perhaps the same game; I could not say. But what struck me about the situation was that, despite their utter captivation in their mobile games, they were carrying on a conversation. A conversation which (to be fair) was occasionally about the games in their hands (“no, it’s because you have four lives”), but also seemed to range to more analog topics (“so I told him that, and he was like…”). Those were pretty much the only two snippets of conversation I heard, but they conversed for much of the ten-minute ride. It reminded me of nothing less than old women sitting around a table, chatting over a game of bridge.
The world is changing, and this new technology is but one Penrose stair in the fabric of the human experience. I’m currently reading Bowling Alone, by Robert Putnam, on the observed decline in American social capital since sometime in the 1970s. But I believe in conservation of social energy, and while there may be fewer conversations over bridge games, there may also be more conversations over games of Angry Birds.