Here’s an account of my experience during my second Around-The-World trek through the Southern Hemisphere in 2012
This actually took place in a very nice hostel in Wellington, New Zealand, but it could be representative of hostel life anywhere.
Two of my roommates were shy, silent German girls who never said a word to anybody. Their English was good and they conversed between themselves, mostly in whispers, but didn’t acknowledge other dorm occupants. This usually created an awkward silence among all of the room’s residents.
Here I am, an old lady in anybody’s book, but such an experienced hosteller that I usually don’t encounter anyone with whom I can’t converse. However, in the course of a few days, I’d only succeeded in learning their names. At last, after making my ongoing reservations to travel south to Nelson, New Zealand, I learned that they were taking the same route, at the same time, to the same hostel, the Paridiso. We might even be travelling together. Fun!
I apologized for haunting them. They shrugged. Frankly, I was the disappointed one to learn these travel facts, as I usually prefer rooming with looser-goose people. Here’s an example of how bad things were: I few days before, I’d entered our stiffly-silent room. These young Germans and a Canadian girl, named Sarah, were stretched silently in their bunks. Later, thought Sarah might be dead, because she spent all day lying with her notepad computer inches from her face. Sometimes, the ipad was collapsed upon her eyes or nose.
One afternoon, Sarah lay on her side with earbuds on, maybe watching a movie on the sideways computer contraption. I could see her eyes this time, wide open and fixed upon the screen. I said to her, “Do your eyes actually work sideways? I don’t think mine do.” No answer! There was no movement or acknowledgement of my entry. Catatonic, maybe? That’s when I thought of the Dead Analogy. Some people die with their eyes open.
Last night, I entered the room and saw one encouraging change. A blue blanket was strung across the front of Sarah’s bunk, like the privacy shields that I create around my own lower bunk with sarongs. I credited her with a move towards privacy, rather than the meek, German girls’ denial of sharing the room with a dead body. Anyway, this time, I decided to ruin the stiff silence by asking if anyone had gone to the nearby Embassy Theatre, location of the famed Hobbit premier held there just two months ago. Yes! Sarah had just seen the gorgeous decoration of the theater’s interior and she highly recommended it.
Wellllllll? That simple interchange broke the ice and the three girls introduced themselves and started talking. I snuggled into the cave of my sarong-shielded lower bunk, but I heard Sarah inviting them to go bar-hopping in half an hour and they accepted and went. Voila!
This morning was as quiet as ever, so I figured that it’s their normal set point. Dead Girl Sarah was actually up and getting dressed! She, in her silent, almost-zombie way, has made me think about the future. I believe that I’m seeing the evidence of a future medical nightmare tsunami by watching the constant incorporation of this generation’s use of their digital gadgets. Even to the future permanent neck crick that comes from focusing on the little phone in both hands, texting with two thumbs, and the hearing loss associated with hours of earbuds for music and sound track. This was probably why they didn’t respond to my conversational attempts.
Or, spinal curvature from the odd slouch, when the weight is on the mid-spine against the couch and the neck or head is at right angles; with again, the two hands supporting the vital instrument, usually with thumbs in play. It’s endemic! It’s epidemic! Spoken by an observer of many, many countries. Generally, the subject’s age is around twenty, which means that this generation was born in the early nineties and has grown up with something captivating in their hands, always carried near their bodies, which they answer automatically at a ring or a click. The human race is growing a new, electronic appendage.
I just read a news item about gorillas and chimps who are using such devices now as a part of some scientific experiments. These lucky primates are even developing an individual fondness for certain apps and games. They don’t communicate over them…..yet… but they can entertain themselves. Just like today’s affluent human toddlers.