I was deep into Howard Rheingold’s new book, Smart Mobs, when I looked up and discovered that twelve other people in the subway car were reading it as well. As I raised my eyes, everyone lowered their books to give me a knowing glance. Was this a peer-to-peer network Howard and Cory Doctorow were talking about? Persistant and ubiquitous communication. The wireless net on the Red Line just coming into Union Station. Howard’s books were the nodes.
Parts of my new community got off, but more walked in. Almost everyone now sported a turquoise-covered hardback up against their nose. I was starting to receive messages. A woman, a student I think, jabbered loudly on her cell phone to an unseen friend. She was on her way to her 8 o’clock class for a test. But she hadn’t studied at all. In fact, she hadn’t been to class in two weeks. I put my finger to my lips to reduce the interference as our eyes met .
The man sitting next to me voiced his objection to the measly cost-of-living raise government workers were getting this month, our sacrifice to Bush’s War Budget. “The increase cost of medical insurance will surly offset any gain. And my cable is going up 10%.” Pages rustled in agreement. The heated discussion permeated into the two adjoining cars.
As I turned the page, another query came wafting by me. Apparently, there were quite a few Web designers on board. Most worked either for the feds, outside government contractors (some defense-related) or news organizations. “Why the push for broadband?” pages murmured. Mobile networks will be the next social revolution. We should be planning for a very different information broadcast.
“If only our bosses would let us start thinking outside today’s box.” the woman across the aisle responded. Books dropped to the floor.
A man in an oversized brown overcoat and broad brimmed fedora suddenly stood up. He had been reading a Philip K. Dick novel, but I couldn’t make out the title. Taking off his hat he turned to me and said “you’re over burdening the network. I can’t understand a thing I’m reading.” We invited him to join us but he had much more ambitious plans.
As we neared the center of town, static replaced dialogue. We were right between the Department of Justice and the White House when somebody pulled out The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush by David Frum. The static gave way to complete silence. At the next stop I decided I’d better reroute my morning commute to the Blue Line to get a better connection. Others followed. I had never done this before. It was a little out of my way but I hoped it would be a much more pleasant ride.
Everyone looked up from their books when we entered the train. And the chat was loud and clear.