Saturday, February 09, 2008

Oblique response: a disambiguation: Good fences make bad neighbours.

You’ll remember how a couple of years ago there was a brilliant ad for I-Pods that had the bare silhouette of a punter sitting on a bus with only his headphones and hardware visible. This was presumably designed to tap into people’s fear of public transport in London. To tap into their desire to be unseen. I have a friend at work, a skittish type but not unrepresentative, who aims at a kind of scurrying super-anonymity when out and about round Deptford or elsewhere, dress down, move fast, be alert, don’t catch anyone’s eye. Buses and trains are especial sources of anxiety because you’re stuck on them and anyone can get on, in any quantity. Precisely the kind of people you might not want to meet, poor, hostile, hyped-up and in large groups. The kind of people you intend to spend your life avoiding. The bus is a pretty levelling social space. The I-Pod offered an even higher level of illusory security to the newspaper of old, right? It was enveloping. It’s not about cancelling the outside world out, it’s about somehow magically rendering yourself invisible. Creating some kind of barrier of deep insularity which will cloak you. If I’ve got my I-pod on, nothing can hurt me.

Obviously Sodcasting, in a way, reverses this. The temptation is to say that it’s some kind of attempt on the part of those who are already invisible to garner recognition, to impinge on social space, to affirm their own existence, to carve out a shared space, buses and bus-stops, and the corollary of this is to say that it’s an attempt to render US visible, to pull us out of our shells, to make us visible both to them and to ourselves. The solitary sodcasters are to my mind a bit more interesting than the groups (you’re going to hang out with your mates, it’s not much fun if you’ve all got headphones on). Frankly it takes tremendous nerve to sit on packed a bus on your own playing tunes.
Nerve or desperation, or fear.

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