Eyes Down, Earphones In

At Zurich main station, a lady disembarks the train pulling a suitcase in one hand and holding her phone in the other. Clearly a tourist, she looks around, wide-eyed and ultra-alert like a kid who’s lost their mother for the first time. Too afraid to ask someone for directions, she takes the safer option of using Google Maps. Why ask a real person when you can save yourself the hassle of making actual human connections? Best to stay away from strangers, Swiss people could be dangerous.

Navigli District, Milan. In a bar bursting with flirtatious Italians on a Saturday night, a guy less than a metre away is nestled deep in his phone. The world around him is but a haze of glasses clinking and drunken merriment, but he isn’t the least bit interested in that. With his back to me, I catch a glimpse at the screen he is so engrossed in. A stab to the heart, a pledge to every cliché of our generation, he’s flicking furiously through Tinder. At a bar. On a Saturday night.

Natural History Museum, Bern. iPads have replaced museum guides, brochures, audio-guides, and curiosity in general. My grandparents struggle to navigate their way through the museum, simply because the map is on the museum-provided iPad, no longer compatible with older generations. I find it ironic, if not deeply worrying that a history museum is now too modern for a portion of the population to be able to enjoy.

Back at Zurich main station, a ticket inspector boards at platform 31. She doesn’t mind the gap between the train and the platform. Instead, her head is lowered, fixated on the mobile gripped firmly in her hands. Her job revolves around this device that she uses to scan passengers’ tickets. She traverses the train, stopping at every passenger who in turn unwillingly glances up from their phones for the most fleeting moment necessary to flash her their tickets. Up down, up down, our eyes waver, drawn back to our devices at every possible instant.

Fluorescent lights flicker as we gain speed through the tunnel. At the other end the train shoots out and suddenly Lake Zurich is to my right, grand and glistening under the 3pm sun. In the distance the clouds roll tepidly over the freshly frosted Üetliberg peak. On the other side of the water the autumn hues are scattered between the white houses, and the sunshine peeks through the dense forest to illuminate the tumbling amber and golden leaves. Yet nobody on the carriage notices. Eyes down, earphones in, we may as well be stuck in the tunnel the whole day, enclosed in obscurity and oblivious to the raw beauty of the world that lays outside our screens.

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