People watching and 6 degrees of separation

I like to watch people, all kinds of people, especially when I’m in an “appointment waiting” mode. I like a little craziness thrown in for fun but if it isn’t there my fertile mind will make it up. Mostly I like to watch how people react.

Last week I had to get blood work (routine, no worries) at our local lab. It’s a small outlet for a big chain. I prefer to go there even though there is a closer one because it’s not as busy (and we all know I have no patience!).

You can make an on-line appointment which I do especially when it’s a fasting test. No one is crankier than me before my coffee. No one!

My typical trip is early morning, definitely before 9. I am the youngest one there. The place is cluttered with canes, walkers, wheelchairs and an occasional young person waiting for an employment drug test. Some of the folks have a “companion” whose job is to help them navigate the elevator, doors and the “window” where you need to show all your cards.

Mondays are not good days. The later in the week the better. Maybe older people prefer to start their fast on Sunday night after a huge dinner, a sports game du jour and 60 Minutes.

My doc’s office says there are more people sick on Fridays. Monday is the first day they can get the testing done.

Last week was different. There were less people and I was the oldest one. (Was there a message there? Could I really be the oldest? Did all those others die?)

There were two youngish women, very healthy looking. Both were trapped in their cell phones when I walked in. Seriously trapped. I think I saw medical sutures attaching it to their bodies. As I watched they are very different from older people.

The old ones are chatters. They say good morning and within 20 seconds are well into a conversation with someone they never met (all this before coffee).

They work on connection. It’s like a game of “6 degrees of separation.” The premise is that everyone is connected within 6 or fewer steps. They try to figure out who they know that might possibly know the other person…or the third cousin once removed of the other person. They don’t give up until they find it. It’s there. Small town, sorta.

The young’uns, not so much. The two women did not acknowledge my entrance or each other. Their head did not look up nor did it appear that they heard the door open.

They continued working thumbs until one was called. I was called next and the other woman did not register disappointment. I knew she didn’t have an appointment because I signed in after her but still, I would have glanced up and tried to figure out how long it would take.

They weren’t interested in anything but their phone.

People watching may completely die out. They will need to teach it in schools. Right after they teach simulating warmth and caring.

 

76 thoughts on “People watching and 6 degrees of separation

  1. I’ll go out on a limb and share a different viewpoint. In situations like waiting rooms, I’m grateful to have my phone to dive into to help me mentally escape from a place I can’t escape from physically. Before cell phones, there were only boring magazines. I’d rather not make idle chatter with strangers, and people watching can be perceived as rude.

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  2. I think you are completely right about people watching dying out! I was at the doctor a week ago and I was doing the watching–and every single person in the waiting area had their noses in their phones! All the while the television was blaring! It was noisy and isolating and just ridiculous. I wasn’t being entertained either! People watching is a big snore if everyone is just staring at a small screen!

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    • Sounds like the lab minus the TV. It does get boring when there is nothing to watch. If you’re lucky, there will be facial expressions and you can try to figure out what the message was. Then again, sometimes they are just playing games.

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  3. I was sitting in my truck at our local Sheetz gas station waiting on a pizza. Their pizza’s not that great, but I was working, time was limited, and Sheetz is a great place to people watch. A young couple was sitting at one of the outside tables in front of me. The girl was absolutely gorgeous, but the fellow was giving his full attention to his cellphone. She would ask questions, he would look up for long enough to give her one or two word answers, then go back to whatever he was doing with the phone. I seriously wanted to get out of the truck and slap him on the back of the head. Finally, the girl stood up and demanded that he take her home. The guy was appalled, and followed her to the care with a stupid, “What happened” look on his face.

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  4. I was waiting around after church one day and I pulled out my phone because I felt awkward just sitting watching the worship team practice. I didn’t want to be on my phone, I didn’t need to be on my phone, I just felt the social pressure to do the “normal” thing. Scary!

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  5. Hysterical- yet sad at the same time. Your people watching is spot on. I’ve had the same experience of an older person trying to get me into a conversation for a long time. She’ll say-‘You were born in New Jersey? Oh do you know Denise Jones? She’s a friend of mine and she lived in New Jersey for 20 years.’ It’s pretty funny.

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  6. I waited 2 hours in a waiting room on Monday while my husband had a colonoscopy. As I was sitting there watching everyone watching their phones, I actually thought “Would anyone notice if I was on fire?” No, is the answer. This disconnect is very sad.

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  7. Hi, Kate – As I continue to read your blog, I discover many parallel experiences. Last week I also had routine blood work done (Life Labs). Life Labs’ policy is that you do not technically need an appointment…but when I’ve tried to do the walk-in thing at the only Life Lab in our small town, the receptionist/office person was VERY CRANKY and VERY EVIL-EYED. So last week, I looked on-line for an early appointment (fasting). The only one that I could find all week that had an available booking before 3 pm was 43 K (26.7 miles) away. The VERY NICE receptionist there was shocked that I had driven that far for my appointment when I could have waited (with Battle Axe) in my own town. Cranky Evil Eyes? No thank you!

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  8. I hate fasting…grumpy grumpy.
    A kind lab staff/technician makes a real difference on how stressful that whole thing is. Older adults may talk more as we realize there are things to worry about with the lab tests, and are sharing the experience HA HA – younger ones are just annoyed they have to be there “for no reason at all”, melting not screen time out of boredom and just want to get out of there…
    It is a concern to see young children with necks crooked down viewing screens all the time. They are missing life – and may become unable to decipher body language which is important for any real – face to face – relationship

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  9. It is sad to see how many people are always staring at their phones. The thing that gets me mad is mothers out with little kids that check their phones instead of interacting with the kids.

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  10. My Dad has done the people watching thing as long as I can remember. When I was little I used to fhink it was boring , but now enjoy it . I make up stories now about the people just like he used to
    I will admit though that people watching can get me mad. Like wheb I see or hear what a parent is doing to their child

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I just met a woman on the bus and we talked all the way to our stop. She is visiting from Montreal and we talked about grandchildren, the flooding here in Ottawa and in Montreal, and grandchildren. So much more fun than looking at a screen.

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  12. I’m imagining a BBC documentary in 50 years time, looking back to the days of real people watching other real people. The commmentray is about the quaint interactions and rituals of this group of ancient humans. 😉

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  13. Yes to people watching, and just generally noticing your surroundings! Went on a walk around the block today with the husband and took my phone out to take pictures but that was it. Amazing what you can find when you have your eyes open! Nice post, Kate!

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  14. I’ll never tire of people watching. Isn’t it a sport? 🙂 Sometimes, I like to make up stories for people, why they are doing what they are doing. What frustrates me about cell phones is when you see a young family in a restaurant and they are all on some kind of device instead of enjoying each others company.

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  15. We love to people watch, and most times strike up a conversation should anyone join us on our bench. I find it a little unnerving to walk into a room full of people and it’s silent…… because everyone is texting, twittering, or facebooking. No-one talks to anyone anymore. Sad. Our dentist in Lincolnshire loved it when we came in because we were so chatty!
    One weekend, we saw a couple who had obviously had an argument and another whose five year old was playing up and they had differing ways of dealing with tantrums.

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  16. A sister of mine picks up her grandchildren two days a week from school. She said the biggest difference she can see in kids now is that instead of running out after the bell rings, they’re all walking slowly and looking at their phones. I also have a lab place really close to where we currently live, but I choose to go to one further away. Like your preferred one, it’s less crowded and the staff there is actually nicer. – Marty

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  17. The cell phone addiction makes for some interesting speculation for the future…. a future that I really do not expect to be a part of… and do not want to be a part of. I like people… and I like having a real conversation! That will soon be grounds for a mental assessment and probably confining to a guarded home with all the other rebels! “Oh… Hi Kate! Fancy meeting you in here. How’s it goin’? 🙂

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  18. Like you, I love to people watch. My favorite place used to be Port Authority in NYC when I used to go there as a kid but now it’s almost anywhere.
    I try to imagine what lives may be like based on what they say, how they react and interact, and what they do while waiting.
    There are lessons and humor to be found in all those places..:)

    Liked by 3 people

  19. I get a cranky over people and their phones! People with their phones drive me to distraction. CH’s family are so in love with their phones that when we are all together they would rather talk to other people on FB, text, or whatever the heck they are doing than talk to us and The Mama. They all come in and their phones are in their hands or just an inch away from them. It’s rude and did I mention it makes me cranky… really cranky. My phone spends 98% of its time in my bag/purse. Usually only out if we are concerned about hearing from The Mama.

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    • That frustrates me too. I rarely use mine. In fact I have NO minutes, just text and data because no one calls me. I never give the number out. What I hate is people talking on the phone in stores while ordering, checking out or engaging a clerk. Step away from the phone! You can’t multi-task no matter how much you think you can.

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  20. Good observations about the differences between age groups ~> looking for connection vs. being tethered to technology. I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m not lost in techno-space while waiting in waiting rooms, but I don’t excavate conversations for tenuous connections either.

    Most of the time, I just allow myself to be a detached observer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m in the middle too. I will make conversation while waiting in a line (especially if it’s a person in a grocery store with wonderful things in their cart!) but before coffee, nope. Not gonna happen. I’m working on just being nice.

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  21. I used to love the nuances of people watching. Interviews were some of my favorite things to do in investigations. So much can be learned from just watching a couple in a coffee shop, depending on where they sit their cups, or other items on the table.
    Your observance of those that embed themselves in cell phones is great. Young people are afraid of the world, so they bury themselves in their phones. If they do interact, it is usually snide or sarcastic, another mechanism to keep the world and others at bay.

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    • I was a recruiter for a few years and spent a lot of time interviewing people. They are crazy. They will tell you anything especially if they are nervous. The stories I got were amazing.

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  22. I’m with you… I love it so much to watch people while sitting in a street cafe or while I’m in the car… so we are two now and as long as we are there this fab “time waster” will not die out ;o)

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