Reliably, three times a week I wait for the train at South Station in Boston. It’s this wonderful panoply of humans; one of the few places where I’m acutely aware of the fact that I can be shoulder to shoulder with someone and still exist in my own little silo. And there we are, a subsection of the sea of humanity waiting to be ushered to our final destinations; isolated by a never-ending collection of sunglasses and earbuds. If you ever wanted to get a sense of just how remarkably ordinary you are, try catching a train at South station. I imagine this is what penguins must feel like when they look out at all their brethren and realize that everyone raided the same closet on the same day and never bothered to change since.
There we are… The serial commuters. Branded by our oneness with the platform, physical proximity, and as much mental and conversational distance that we can afford from one another.
And yet, we all obey the voice.
There is always the same artificial voice announcing which track to report to in order for you to catch your train. It’s a feminine voice, yet strikingly robotic, almost like what your wife or girlfriend might sound like if aliens made off with her and replaced her with a glaringly poor mechanical facsimile of herself. And, to top that off, her inflection chip was slightly mangled before installation.
The voice is very matter of fact, intended to impart a sense of consequence. Perhaps it is my paranoia, but sometimes I swear I can detect the faintest whiff of “If you’re not where you’re supposed to be, that’s too damn bad” from the voice.
One thing I noticed is that everyone stands on the platform with their heads bowed in perpetuity to their smartphones all while the voice politely tells us where to go.
I’m sure if the Mongolfier brothers were alive today and just happened to float over this scene in their hot air balloon, they would surely wonder if it wasn’t prayer time for all of these apparently devout individuals that seemingly lack all uniformity save for their strange dark spectacles and posture of absolute piety.
I find it ironic that in this supposed age of enlightenment where everything gets questioned, we humans finish our workday, march across a giant slab of concrete, bow our heads and wait for a disembodied voice to tell us where to go all to be herded into giant wheeled cages so we can get to wherever it is that we’re going. We then proceed to pat ourselves on the back for being so good at this thing called technology. We technology!
What do you suppose would happen if one day, the voice stopped being predictable. And, instead of telling us where to report to for an intended destination, told us where to go based on where we’re at in life?
What if that voice one day said: “ For all of those in a completely miserable and toxic relationship that want out, please board on track three.”
Would there be a mad dash of people that wouldn’t think twice about it? After all, no one told you where it is that you would wind up. You’re only told where to leave from where you are.
Or, what if the voice said, for all morally ambiguous passengers please report to track five? Let’s be real, how many people would just hear that and think to themselves “ Ah, finally, some recognition for my less than stellar virtue. It feels so nice not being judged and having a train just for me”. What if on the other hand, everyone heard that and started eyeing each other with suspicion?
“Just look at that guy over there. I knew he looked morally ambiguous. I bet you he’s going to be the first one to set foot on that train”.
Then, what if the voice just started corralling people based off of their deepest darkest secrets?
“Would all passengers having an extramarital affair please report to track 8 for departure.”
“Pedophiles please report to platform 9 and three quarters”
My suspicion is that no one would move. Staying still is literally the only thing you can do in that situation to avoid being eaten by the T-Rex of awkwardness that’s looming about in that scenario.
Maybe in that scenario, the truly virtuous take off early and leave everyone else dragging around the stiff known as self-honesty.
All I know is that in two days time. I will be waiting for the voice to tell me where I need to be to get home.