Technology and Presence

I am waiting outside in Arlington, MA to catch a bus back to the end of the Boston subway and back to my grandmother’s house at the other end of the subway line in Quincy. I get a call from my girlfriend in Providence, where I still live as well, although I hardly spend any time there anymore. It’s a little after 9:00 PM. She’s early. She usually calls sometime between 10:00 and 11:00. My bus comes. I keep her on the line, board the bus, tap my RFID-enabled card to pay my fare, and sit down. We tell each other about how our days went. The bus arrives at the station. I locked my bike at this station on my way out to Arlington, so I unlock it to bring it back with me on the subway. I stay above ground in the station to finish the phone conversation. We tell each other goodnight. I board the subway. I brought four Mothers’ Day cards to fill out on my ride back. They are going to each of my two grandmothers, my mom, and my stepmother. The subway car jostles and fights me as I am trying to maintain a minimal level of legibility in my handwriting, particularly for my maternal grandmother who used to teach first and second grade. I had stamps on the envelopes already – I put them on at my other grandma’s house before I left it this morning. I am drained from a long day of work. I screwed up one of the addresses – I’ll sacrifice that for the one card for which I don’t need an envelope – the one for the grandma I am staying with this week. Three of my mothers’ day recipients call me “Michael”. My stepmother calls me “Mikey”, a nickname that my now-teenage brother gave me. I’m not used to going by either of those names on a daily basis, so I struggle to make sure I get them right for each of the moms in my life. In order to write some thoughtful words, I have to imagine I am talking in-person with each of them. It feels like teleporting. Two of them are in California. One is outside of Philadelphia. One is outside Boston, where I am going to rest tonight. I finish the cards, sigh, and look up. It’s an odd time, so it’s not anywhere near its rush-hour maximum density, but it’s not completely empty either – there are just enough people in it to notice that there are a lot of lonely people here together.

This subway is the Edward Hopper painting of our time. We are passive passengers with drooping hats, thumbs navigating through mobile phones, ears plugged with headphones, awkwardly cropped with faces behind books, aged with fluorescent light, waiting for the doors to open at our destination.

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