God bless the ipod. Not because I can fit my entire CD collection onto it, store photos or use it as an external hard drive but for a reason the Apple marketing people seem to have overlooked - the freedom to ignore people in lifts. This occurred to me the other day as I was wedged into the corner of a shopping centre lift while the woman beside me blew her nose messily and, ignoring the expression on my face, made small talk about how colds seemed to be going around a bit. My hands fumbled wildly in my bag for the small white device while her lips continued to flap uselessly - my ears powerless in the face of such an assault.
Contrary to popular opinion I do actually quite like people. Some people. Some of the time. What I do not really like is being confined in a small space with a bunch of strangers or semi-strangers and having to do that thing where you either make small talk about the weather and die a little death as you do so or else feign fascination with something in your bag/on the lift wall/in the distance and pretend you're unaware of anyone else's presence.
At my old, old job a couple of years ago we worked at the top of a tall building in the city (this was in London) so we had a lift. Actually we had two (and they were the fancy kind too.. or as fancy as lifts get, which is to say not very). As soon as the clock clicked around to five-thirty it seemed like everyone in the office was determined to make it home in the shortest possible time. And yet instead of getting stuck in the lift with the hot geek in IT I was inevitably sealed up in a two by two metre prison with one of the following: my boss, who called me Kay; the receptionist, wearing one spray too many of J'adore and a top designed to showcase the fact that she was still 21 and yes they're real thanks for asking; or the accountant who stared at my breasts and/or made jokes I didn’t understand.
In the days before my ipod I was forced to engage in the kind of conversations that made me want to cut the lift cable and take my chances with a twenty-foot freefall. You know what I mean: questions about your weekend with no pause for an answer; vague, probing questions that reveal they've forgotten every single piece of personal background you've ever revealed; embarrassed small talk when you'd both rather be beating your heads against the faux-wooden panelling.
The ipod changed all that. Putting your earphones in while standing next to someone else is, of course, unforgivably rude. But jamming them in seconds before you hop into the lift is, though still rude, in my books quite forgivable. I’m sorry, I intended the expression on my face and the shrug of my shoulders to convey, I would talk to you but as you can see I’m right in the middle of something here. I can’t take these things out on my own, you know.
At my current job I don’t have to take a lift at all but that doesn’t mean the ipod has no place in my life. When I arrive early to a semi-deserted building a pair of buds in my ears means I need only nod and not converse with a) crazy recycling man b) dude from creative who I try to keep on good terms with in case he one day slips a semi automatic on under his long black coat or c) creepy subs. A soundtrack of whatever I fancy also means that, walking to and from work through occasionally creepy streets and past often creepy people, I can’t hear a word they may or may not be saying to me. I see the lips move but I smile and tap my earphones. I'm sorry.
There’s a lot of guff bandied about on lame advertisements that seems to suggest technology can bring people together. To which I say balls. Not only is technology most determinedly keeping us further apart from each other I think it’s a bloody good thing it is. If I want to embrace my fellow man then I’ll put down my ipod, step away from the computer and do it. Until then I’ll just send you a text and keep the earphones in, thanks.