People Watching and Time Dilation: Part 1

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So Cigargoyle told a little story last night about people watching that hit a chord from my past.

It’s always been one of my favorite things to do, and is one of the things I miss terribly about My City. There were any number of places I’d go and just sit and watch. Barnes & Noble all over the city. Any number of bars; downstairs in Grand Central Terminal. I’d take my notebook down and just have my head apparently down while listening and watching.

People don’t notice what’s going on around them outside the shortest tactical time-horizon. What’s a danger? Who’s around? Where am I going? Aside from that, something outside the bounds of defined normalcy has to occur in order for it to be noticed, kind of by definition, really.

We can’t pay attention to everything all the time. We’d explode with sensory overload. So we make massive amounts of judgements behind the scenes of our consciousness in order to figure out what we actually NEED to pay attention to. By definition that means: “If it’s not of immediate concern to me, ignore it.”

Perception is nine kinds of fucky that way. You think you see what’s going on around you, but you really don’t. You see what’s important to you.

A few sentences paraphrased from something I wrote 20 years ago:

One of the great things about people watching, especially in NYC is that you can’t imagine the bizarre dramas that are taking place all around you unless you stop, unplug from the present, and watch what’s going on.

You have to change your time horizon to see properly.

Imagine, if you will (thanks Rod) a multicolor display that you’re looking at through a blue gel filter. The guy next to you is using a red gel. The world is like that. Well, everything is like that.

There are parallel dimensions that overlay each other at different frequencies. Now…I COULD get metephysical about that, but I hold those cards pretty close to the vest. But that’s not even really what I’m talking about here. Maybe some day.

When you sit down where there are a bunch of people, let’s say at a bar, the first thing you’re likely to see and hear is “crowd” and “noise.” Maybe even “busy bartender.” So you sit down (hopefully with your back to the wall because you’re not a moron) and watch and wait a little. After a while you start seeing things appear out of the chaos, like you’re tuning in from the static and adjusting your perception, going through the process of filtering out what you don’t need to pay attention to in order to see the patterns.

You’ll see the dynamics of the people you notice (and who, out of the crowd, you notice is another matter entirely.) Who’s here by themselves? Who’s looking at their drink. Who’s listening to the music? Who’s watching whom? What do they want? Who’s watching the bartenders ass every time she turns around? Who’s noticing them do that? Why are they here? Are they fussing with their clothes? Their hair? Are they checking their watch or worse, their phones?

As you watch you experience a time dilation, meaning you start seeing things on a longer time horizon. The more you watch the more you see patterns, recognize them, and bank them in your head so that you don’t have to pay attention to them.

THEN, with those in your head, you get to look for larger (and longer) patterns. You see who’s trying to make a play for whom, and who’s waiting for someone to say something. You see who’s having a rough time. Who’s here to forget and who’s here to remember.

At this point you’ve absolutely raised in dimensional awareness to see an entirely different layer of humanity. And all you had to do is sit still, lean back, and let your eyes, ears, and nose take in room.

Now this is just from going anyplace and sitting there. We can take this to a much higher level very easily, by going back a couple times. Now you’ve jumped another level of time dilation.

What’s happening with these people’s lives over time? Who are they and what are they doing? How are they dressed from one day to the next? Who’s coming back? What are people drinking? Who’s here for what’s on the television and who’s here because it’s just “what they do?”

Over time you can learn so very much. Put people in boxes, because you have to face the fact that people can be put in boxes, however fuzzy their borders are.

It’s fascinating.

But the example of a bar is something of a contrivance since one of the purposes of a bar is to behave as a pot in which everyone tosses themselves in order to experience the apparent chaos of humanity and see what happens when they add themselves to that mix, sometimes to make things happen.

Cigargoyle’s example was to sit outside on the porch of a gas station/convenience store and sit and watch the ebb and flow of people. In a place like that it’s a much different kind of scene, different kinds of patterns. But the idea is of course exactly the same. People go there for a very narrow set of purposes. But to watch through what I’ll call the expanded eye still gives you SO much. What do they drive? How do they dress? Where are they going to and coming from? How many people are in a rush? Who looks down at their shoes and who looks out to others? Do they do so invitingly or warily?

I’ve often thought a supermarket would be a great place to do this kind of people watching. But there’s really no place to do it from. It’s not like you can sit to one side of the checkout lanes and just watch people for hours on end. But I’ve no doubt it would be fascinating if you could.

The breadth of what a human is out in the vastness of real space is absolutely wild.

Spend some time watching people. It’s one of the most rewarding things you can do with your time.

Of course this all applies to watching your own life as well. More on that in a bit.