busy cummuter subway car

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Sarah Wolfson works at CMCH as an Administrative Associate, and is an editor of Media Moments.

Commuting to work this morning, I had the misfortune of choosing the seat next to two very loud talkers. Even with my headphones in and the volume turned way up, I couldn’t drown out their conversation. Their surprise and excitement from seeing each other on the same bus was truly unbearable. I got off at my stop knowing far too much about where they work, how they like it, and when they’re meeting up to grab coffee and catch-up. Despite my very targeted scowls, they had spent the entire ride completely oblivious to morning bus etiquette. And honestly, that’s probably to their credit.

A year into the same daily commute, I’ve come to expect a fairly dystopian bus ride where the seats and aisles are packed, but no one makes a sound. Everyone is busy listening to music or a podcast through their headphones or typing on their phones. Myself included. When we need to squeeze by each other to reach the bus door, we rarely ask to get by, or even utter an “excuse me.” Instead, we just barrel through the crowd of commuters standing in the aisle, clipping each other with our bags. When I see someone I know, I genuinely pretend to be asleep to avoid making eye contact and saying hello. To put it plainly, there’s very little human interaction on my commute that’s literally filled with people.

While I recognize how bizarre this scenario is, I’ve come to love this status quo. With a phone, an hour of travel time suddenly becomes an hour of free time, during which I can explore my various interests. I begin each morning with my news podcasts, and I look forward to attempting the daily crossword before I switch to social media and check out what my friends and favorite celebrities are up to. I look around, and people are happily nodding along to music, reading their eBooks, and texting friends. Phones and devices allow us to make use of an otherwise cumbersome part of the day.

But as I realized this morning, this total tech-absorption can make me less social and empathetic to those around me. I see the same people every day on my commute, and we’ve never acknowledged each other. I don’t know their names, what their voices sound like, or anything about them other than our stops along the bus route. I’m not saying that we should all be chatting together and becoming best friends, but I do think that a smile or at least a small token of recognition for our shared space could go a long way. I myself have experienced rare moments of commute camaraderie, from someone running after me to return my bus pass that I had accidentally dropped, to watching everyone in the front of the bus move to make room for a father with a stroller. These moments of human caretaking required us all to think outside of ourselves and our own tech bubbles, and also demonstrated that we are capable, and do look out for our fellow travelers.

I don’t know if I have the courage to be that person who smiles and nods at those I recognize. We’re still in a northeastern city, after all. But at the very least, I’ll stop scowling at other commuters trying to take down the tech walls we’ve put up. Maybe next time someone adjusts their bags so that I can take the seat beside them, I’ll even make eye contact and audibly say “thank you” before turning back to my phone. Baby steps.

-Sarah Wolfson
-edited by Kristelle Lavallee

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