The first time that Sue and I visited San Francisco, we did the obligatory Alcatraz tour. Fascinating as it was, my abiding memory of the place was watching the numerous visitors padding around the building in total silence as they listened to the recorded commentary on the provided headsets. It felt like a scene from Shaun of the Dead.
I had the same experience again today. We had walked from the centre of Sacramento towards the urgent care clinic, but the journey was proving to be much longer than we expected. We badly needed a sit down and a reviving shot of caffeine. The Naked Lounge Tea & Coffee House seemed to fit the bill nicely.
Sacramento's Tower Bridge
For the record, the cappuccino was great and the sofa was comfy. But that wasn't the thing that struck me first.
It was the silence. The place was so quiet. And the reason was plain to see.
Apart from a couple at the table by the door, every other person in the place was staring into a laptop or similar device. Most of them were also wired for sound via a headset or earphones too. They appeared oblivious to everything around them.
It reminded me of the scene on the London Underground just a few days before. Standing in a packed carriage, I couldn't help noticing that every seated person on both sides of the carriage was peering into a handheld device. Most seemed to be playing a game of some sort.
Now I have nothing against technology, indeed I am an ardent fan of the microchip. It has been instrumental in enabling my business to build systems and processes that deliver brilliant outcomes that our clients really value, and to do so consistently and profitably. Indeed, I am tapping out these words on my Windows Phone as I sit in our hired car in Sacramento City, and through the power of connected technology I'll be able to share them with you very soon - indeed, it could be within minutes if I wasn't too stingy to pay the extortionate data roaming charges that I got hit by last trip.
But saying that I embrace technology isn't the same as saying that I like all of it's effects on us. It seems to me that the more that we engage with the digital world, the less engaged we become with the world around us. Doesn't anyone actually speak to anybody any more?
I fear that eventually conversation will disappear altogether, to be replaced by rapid exchanges of text messaging. I used to think that keypads would disappear as computers become controlled by voice, but that will never catch on in the coffee shop or on the Underground, where humans speaking to each other will be a source of interruption and consequent annoyance to those cappuccino drinkers who went in there to get some work done, having texted their order through in advance to avoid breaking the silence on arrival.
Just see if I'm right. To find out, I'm going to text myself an electronic diary entry for ten years from now. Expect to receive an email at that time.
If I'm wrong, let's schedule a meeting in 2022. I'll meet you at the coffee shop. I'll buy you a drink and you can tell me what you've been up to for the last 10 years.
So long as the other customers can put up with the noise.
From technology to nature - take a look at San Francisco Landscapes.