Essays on Technology and Culture

The Bubble of Self

I have a super power—the uncanny ability to be in someone’s way without realizing it. When it happens, and it happens at least daily, I get out of the way as best I can, flush with embarrassment, and apologize. Maybe it’s a symptom of Attention Deficit Disorder, or maybe it’s something else. Either way, it’s exacerbated by wearing headphones in public. I just end up stuck in a bubble of my self, lost to what’s around me, and it’s something I can slip into at a moment’s notice. I’m not the only one, either. Some of us are better than others at avoiding it, but day in and day out, we spend a big chunk of our time caught in our bubble of self.

And I’m not going to lie, those little screens in our pocket don’t help at all. You don’t need a little screen in your pocket, and a pair of speakers in your ears to get lost in your bubble of self, but they’re not making it easier to avoid it. Case in point: the inspiration to write this came during a morning commute on the subway, while a pair of men watched a loud, and profane stand-up comedy bit on their pocket screen, without headphones. I can be certain the only two people on the train who wanted to hear some random stand-up comedy were those two men, and yet they were inflicting it on the rest of the passengers. If they’d thought, even for a moment, about the fifty other people in the car, they might have opted to put on headphones, or at least wait until later.

Most of our obliviousness isn’t that high-profile. It’s just a good example of bad behavior caused by our bubbles. The only solution is to actively try to pierce our own bubbles, and be aware of the world we’re in. It’s something that is hard to do, but is made easier with practice. Call it a form of mindfulness, or whatever you’d like, but without that practice, without that effort, we can easily slip back within our bubbles, and damn the world around it. Piercing that bubble, just being aware of the people around you, and how much—or how little—you may be affecting them goes a long way towards empathy and other skills that make us better human beings.