An anonymous reader has a very public addiction; He reads your messages over your shoulder on public transport. But he’s trying to get better.
Hi, my name’s Greg* and I’m an Text-Addict. My addictions include: Reading your text messages on a train, reading your text messages on a bus, glancing over your shoulder reading the page of the book you’re on, peeking at your Facebook notifications, watching the show you’re watching on your tablet, and invasion of your personal space.
I have a filthy problem, yes, but it started as a harmless dirty habit. It quietly started one nameless morning on the way to work.
It all started because of the gentleman next to me. He was sound asleep, phone dangling in his fingers, I didn’t recognise the importance of the moment then, but if I could go back, I would have switched seats, anyway, the phone shook with light and there it was. Name, words, details, all laid bare in front of me. The danger of it made me look away, I dunno maybe it attracted me too, y’know, the thrill of knowing you did it. I looked over at him and he kept snoring. I knew it was the wrong thing to do, but my curiosity got the better of me. I tucked my neck into the collar of my shirt and leaned towards him as my eyes greedily devoured what I had no right to see.
The message, which I can still remember word-for-word, was: “Can you please remember to not forget to pick up the thing”
My mind swam with the possibilities. What thing? Where? From whom? What was it? Drugs? Money? Soup? and how many times had he forgotten to necessitate the loveless reminder? I stared at the message, hoping my brain would eke out more information, but it couldn’t, so I left him there, sleeping. Smoking a cigarette on the platform afterwards, my hand shook as I wiped my moist brow with the cuff of my shirt, feet nervously drumming a beat as I relived my near-miss of a world I never knew existed.
From then on, things felt…different, but I was a long way from being ‘addicted’.
It was just a bit of fun.
I looked forward to work every morning, there were new narratives to discover and new mysteries to unravel. Real people I didn’t know dealing with real problems I didn’t have to solve. I could swoop in, mine the dirt, and walk away. It was just a bit of fun. I caught the last half of the Dukes of Hazzard TV series, I was unable to see exactly who or what was pursuing the Duke Boys to necessitate such an airborne escape, but it mattered little to me.
It was just a bit of fun.
You know that guy on Public Transport, the one who leans so obviously as he encroaches your personal space? The one who masks his invasion with it a quick look away in opposite direction, or an obvious look out the window? That wasn’t me. I got to be so good, I was criminal. I flew the highest heights, before plunging to the deepest depths, believe you me. I knew your business before you knew I knew your business. I was the secret third-wheel at your dinner dates, the invisible third in the ménage-a-trois sexting of bae. I knew what you should have said to her, instead of what you said, I was able to read the signals better than you; because I approached it with fresh eyes.
It was just a bit of fun.
Summer slipped to Autumn, the leaves fell off the trees, and somewhere in those months, the penny dropped. It wasn’t fun anymore. I was doing it just to do it. I was unable to keep to myself. My own phone seemed boring, and it couldn’t keep me. I found myself riding empty midnight trains to hopeless destinations, seeking solace in the phones of strangers. They wouldn’t give me what I wanted because they didn’t trust me enough to fall asleep. Had I slipped so far?
The standard informational tidbits no longer sated me. I wanted to know the entire history of the relationship. What were they like? What mistakes have you survived? What quirks do they use to annoy you? What gives them pleasure? What? My fingernails shorn short from gleeful anticipation, unable to keep my mind away from it. I marched up and down the carriages of morning commutes, scanning all the devices, forcibly taking whatever information I could to form my own narrative:
Ruth was having a baby that crashed a car who was bored dinner for three at eight HBO logo buzz what are you doing nuttin’ what are you doing?
I needed help. But I didn’t know who to turn to. Did this problem even exist? The counsellor at work was no good (I went through his inbox and found his accreditations had elapsed), How could I tell my friends? They’d never let me use their phones again (I had already looked), so I made some promises to myself and some changes. No more morning commutes. No more automatic prowling through email inboxes.
Part of that is me writing this. I’m writing this to make amends. If I spoiled your commute. I’m sorry. And while that doesn’t excuse what I did, know I’m working through it, but know that I need your help too.
So please, don’t shift away. Try to understand. There’s more of us out there.
Turn your phone off, it’s for all of us.