Friday, December 16, 2022

First World Problems

Okay, developed world. Are you ready for a spray?

Auckland sucks. And it sucks in the same way that Sydney sucks. In the same way Vancouver sucks. Toronto. Seattle. London.

You all suck.

Okay, it's just 48 hours, between flights and layovers, since I've left Colombia that I arrive in Auckland, but all is fair game for what The Solonaut does—compare cultures.

I must still have the pulse of Spanish in me after a month in Latin America, as I seek out a tapas restaurant bedecked in bullfighting posters, Picasso's Don Quixote and pictures of Salvador Dalí's moustache. I keep instinctively thanking the kiwi staff gracias. They must think I'm a wanker. The ambient music alternates between flamenco and Latin rhythms, and two pints in I'm really enjoying myself. Then reality intrudes, jolting me back to New Zealand.

Two suits sit at the table next to mine for a social post-work pint. And what do they talk about? Music? Women? Family? The party last week? Conjecture on the concurrent World Cup? 

Nope. They talk shop. Seed funding for the project. Strategic investment. Cost projections and data corridors and team management and revenue. In fact, within five minutes of sitting down, one of them fields a ten-minute phone call from his team to whom he needs to give direction, leaving his disregarded table mate to resort to phone scrolling from boredom. This automatous race of beings are the dullest, most boring people in the world. They bore each other and themselves and everyone around them.

It puts me in mind of a Valentine's Day I once spent at a restaurant with my girlfriend. Specimen A dating a girl at the next table fields a phone call for which he leaves the table, going outside to laugh, guffaw and gesticulate, as observed through the big restaurant windows, for fifteen awkward, uncomfortable and humiliating minutes for his relegated date as he presumably effused over news of his mate's new PlayStation. It was hideous. I didn't know who to be embarrassed for.

But the team management phone call is only a brief respite: Robot 2 returns to the present with Robot 1 and resumes discussion of seed funding, strategic investment, cost projections and data corridors.

If this happened at all anywhere in earshot in Colombia I was spared by my ignorance of the language. But believe me—it didn't happen. From the life-embracing, war-emergent Medellinenses to the Costa Ricans' identification with la pura vida to the huge festivities in Mexico celebrating the dead who punctuate life, Latin America is too vibrant with the understanding of what it is to live to fall ill to that infection of fiscal thinking at a tableful of food and beer.

But this isn't the worst of the modern social dining experience. 

Now, I'm old and grumpy. Generation X, who saw in the Internet, are in their mid-lives now, and the cohort we share with Millennials saw in "Web 2.0" social media. But there's a Millennial-Zoomer phenomenon, egregiously shared by proud X parents and Boomers, that does my head in: TikTok on speakerphone. At least when Facebook appeared it shut the fuck up. People might show each other pics on their phones and blurbs in their feeds, but it was relatively silent, even if it did introduce the unsocial phone gaze. But now... honestly... is there any such thing anymore as a restaurant meal in peace?

Every bloody time I go to a restaurant, which has been frequent as I'm travelling—everywhere—there'll be at least one table where someone has the need to share their boyfriend's/best mate's/daughter's adventures/pranks/performance on TikTok. Headphones and Bluetooth are too protracted for sharing so it's always on disruptive speakerphone—tinny, jangling, attention-demanding, table-invading, distracting racket. In the hands of complete morons it's blasted at top volume. It is the perfect storm of social technology, corporatised default settings, and 21st-century autocentricity.

I don't know. People lose touch with how to socialise, how to behave, how to just be. We're all just another algorithm in the silicon economy. It sucks.

Just go away and let me eat in peace.

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