I remember a painting by my cousin that hung in my aunt and uncle’s living room in Conda, ID. It was a long, thin, vertical painting with a frame and background of black. A stream of white ants crawled up the middle in a uniform line toward some picnic just off-canvas. The second ant from the top had escaped the line, turned red, and was targeted with a white circle.
The symbolism was clear, we have met the enemy and we is ants.
I thought of the painting this morning during my commute. I looked ahead at the uniform lines of cars, punctuated by the occasional ant acting more like a cockroach – that’s another post. Embedded in the mechanized ant line were several cars that I recognized, not because I personally knew their drivers, but because our commutes are all so perfectly timed that we’re guaranteed to see each other almost every day – sort of the mobile equivalent of that person you always see in the elevator, but that you don’t know from Adam.
But We Shared More
More than likely, several of us listened to the same radio station and laughed at the same stale jokes from the same stale jocks. We all saw the car fire in Fremont. The foggy sun looked the same. Several of us drank identical cups of coffee – although probably from different Starbucks – in identical cups, with identical tastes, and identical exorbitant prices. More than a few of us flipped off the more aggressive cockroaches as they weaved in and out of our orderly line.
It struck me that we live in a society where even a solitary pursuit like commuting is invested with a certain communality. Few of us spend our days completely out of contact with others. Aside from a few Nevada ranchers, we see other people every day and interact with them, even if we don’t notice or imagine otherwise.
A Good Thing, A Bad Thing, or Just a Thing
I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing. On the down side, it’s dehumanizing and the tight schedules, I’m sure, induce stress. On the plus side, everyone has someone else and is never really alone (whether their emotional response believes that or not).
I can see a tremendous untapped potential in this situation for both good and bad, but it’s a tough ant to dig out and I expect it would be exploited for profit, only increasing the alienation many already feel. One need look no farther for proof than the new programmable billboards that switch content based on the demographics for radio stations that passing cars are tuned to.
I gave it some thought, but I was distracted by a cockroach who nearly took my bumper off. The thought died on the tread of the cockroach’s tire and I never did finish it.
Now you’ll have to excuse me. If I don’t get back, I’ll lose my place in line.