Hearing someone scream in agony, running down the platform as the train pulled away, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sympathy. I could tell from the way he cried out that he wasn’t hurt, but some other minor disaster had occurred. Luggage had been put on the train while this guy wandered off the train and onto the platform, surely certain that the 3 seconds he stepped off the train wouldn’t be the time that it took for the train to depart. But it was, and depart the train did.
I was coming home from the San Francisco airport, which connects to the local train affectionately known by its acronym, Bart. Exiting from the airport and down to the entrance to the train’s platform, I could see a train sitting at the platform across the turnstile which I had not yet passed. I jogged to try to catch it in time , knowing that I would need to wait 15 minutes for the next one if I didn’t jump on this one. My slight jog wasn’t fast enough, and the train pulled away with a slight whoosh as I reached the turnstile. I sighed in disappointment, but selfishly considered myself lucky when I experienced secondhand the agony of the man who left his luggage on the train car.
It was one of those moments where I felt compelled to break through the awkwardness of initiating conversation with a stranger – I wanted to tell him I could help, that it would be okay, that station staff announced over the PA system that he could come to the teller’s booth at the front and they would try to work with him.
As soon as he stopped his futile chase of the train, however, he immediately called his friend on his cell phone, barely stopping to breathe, ranting about his frustrating experience, instructing his friend – supposedly who he was soon to meet – that he had missed the train and accidentally abandoned his bag on it.
A tug of obligation and sympathy for this stranger made me want to try to interject, but I wasn’t given the choice. He continued on the phone for the next 15 minutes, pacing around the angrily around the platform, making him unapproachable, though I followed him from a distance, looking for an opportunity to inject myself.
Within a quick quarter of an hour, the next train pulled up to the station, and – with my own commitments and friends to meet. I got on it, with my things, and rode home.
Technology (the cell phone) served to connect with stranger with his friend, while also allowing him to disengage from his immediate situation, rendering him unaware and closed to any local help that could have been offered to him, such as a passerby like himself who wanted to offer advice.
Although we have wireless internet, fancy smartphones, GPS, social media and abundant technology that has delivered alluring yet incomplete promises of solving all of life’s problems, situations like these remind me that figuring out and using technology is half the battle. Knowing how to use a cell phone doesn’t mean that you can communicate – meaning that relationships and the importance of teaching rhetoric, critical thinking and relationship building is as relevant as it always has been.