In the ‘70s, they slept. Apparently. Hong Kong’s buses and trains were full of Chinese men, women and children, fast asleep. Gently rocked into sweet oblivion as these rusty vessels made their way through the city streets. I expect the thick pollution acted as an effective sedative.
And it’s an amazing feat, to sleep on public transport. Sitting down. Sometimes even standing up. The second they climbed aboard, they were out like a light. Didn’t matter how crowded, or how hot. There was an apparent inherent ability of Hong Kong people to immediately fall into blissful somnolence.
In the ‘90s and ‘00s they talked on mobile phones. Everyone was awake. Everyone was shouting.
Chaotic. Loud. Meaningless.
‘Have you eaten yet?’ ‘Have you done a crap yet?’ ‘Where are you?’
Jammed into clamouring inanity. Conversations that at best could wait until disembarkation, and generally should never have taken place at all. No lives enriched. No actual information exchanged. Simply a way of forgetting.
And now? Touch screens. Hordes of people frantically tapping, scratching and stroking away at handheld slabs of plastic. Eyes down.
I remember the first time I noticed a man in a smart suit scrabbling away on his iPhone. Intrigued, I assumed he must be carrying out a significant business deal. As I chanced a glance at the screen, it became apparent that he was playing an arcade game. A virtual slot machine, in which nothing tangible would ever be won or lost.
And it’s constant. Hordes of lemmings, mindlessly tapping away. This desperation to saturate the neurons with lights and movement in a bid not to think.
That’s what it’s all for, right? Trying to forget. To escape. To escape the fact that life didn’t turn out the way you thought it would. Sleep to escape. Talk crap to escape. Fiddle with your iPhone to escape. To forget. Don’t think. If you do, it’ll only spin you out. Don’t think and then you won’t have to confront yourself.
And maybe you’ll hear something else.