Is it what you read or what you’re reading on that tells you most about the modern day commuter?
The intense, unsmiling character reading the Wilbur Smith’s blockbuster “Hungry as the Sea” could be that supressed adventurer desperate for a more exotic life and unwilling to accept that a daily commute on the Chiltern Turbo is anything other than an ironic reference to a fast paced life style, a slap in the face to his aspirations for a way out of the Quiet Zone and into the Danger Zone. Is he just a dreamer, an old romantic unwilling to accept that screens and buttons have replaced paper and print and with the rise of technology has come the shattering of imagination.
Groundhog Day must be a familiar taunt for the congregation of mute travellers as they wait at the same spot on the platform to go into the same carriage and sit in the same seat on the same train day in day out. But may be a fictional escape is all that’s needed to break this continual feeling of déjà vu.
The kindle reader may disagree, he’s a man of his time and an advocate of contemporary gadgetry who on a point of principle would regard reading words printed on paper as a step back into the dark ages. He’s a modern traveller, a pragmatist never happier than when devouring the internet for books on health, fitness and the life and times of his hero Steve Job. He needs no reminders of the good old days, for him steam trains, buffet cars and monochrome flashbacks to Brief Encounter are nightmarish images rather than sepia tinted nostalgia.
He’s a child of the Amazon generation who would only cross the threshold of a Waterstones as part of his 12 Step Apple Anonymous programme, culminating in a visit to the local library where all his technological demons will be purged.
Then we arrive at the top of the technological travellers tree, the iPad man who keeps a Kindle in his bag for emergencies but is dependent on his bigger screen for accessing the wider world of information. He’s a meticulous man, a pedant almost, who treats this slender piece of informative engineering as his female companion for the journey, lovingly assembling her into the upright position before gently inserting his colour coordinated ear plugs and then immersing himself in the latest news from his broadsheet
This initial impression of a methodical man though is misleading as he’s an intellectual fidget, consuming the latest news updates as he flicks at the screen with the impatience of a tone deaf conductor. It doesn’t appear to be a relaxing process more a race against time to digest as much information as possible before arrival at Marylebone. As the destination gets closer he becomes more indiscriminate, flitting from the sober analysis of the Chinese economy to the gaudiness of the Big Brother eviction. Spoilt for choice he become less discerning and there is an undoubted impression of envy as he glances at the book reader plodding on, the tortoise to his technological hare, cursing his addiction to Apple.
This is just a snapshot of life in the bubble of a train, a personal impression from a technophobe who spends most of his time dreaming of the sun during these dark winter journeys. So whether it’s paper or hardware the end goal is probably escape in some form so may be we’re all pretty similar on the groundhog train to London.