I had the opportunity to do some people watching this weekend and my observations amazed me, as they have each time I have had this opportunity. People today are oblivious to the world in general around them, regardless of whether they are doing something that requires their attention or not. More often than not these people don't really effect anyone except for the casual observer. But sometimes, those people suffering from obliviousness will leave a wake of chaos, destruction, and occasionally death in their wakes.
People driving vehicles along the road but having no idea where they are going or what is happening around them are the ones that frighten me the most. More than once someone would pull into the far left lane only to suddenly turn on their right hand turn signal and turn the steering wheel hard right. Or talking on a cellphone, while driving, and they would run through red lights or suddenly turn left or right cutting off someone who had the right of way.
In the town nearest us there is a phenomena called the "Cornwallian Left". It is what happens when someone is sitting in the uncontrolled left hand turn lane, when the red light turns to green. The people going straight ahead have the right away but the person sitting in the turn lane will gun it taking their left turn before anyone moves. Anyone who has lived here a while will wait an extra 10 seconds letting the lane ahead clear.
But, let a tourist or a recent addition to the town be in the straight lane and a serious accident will occur. This is a case of neither drivers being very observant. The guy going left thinks his life and his problems are the most important and so he breaks the law. The driver going straight isn't paying attention to the road and doesn't see that that the other driver is moving before he or she too hits the gas and ploughs ahead. Before you know it there is glass and twisted metal all over the road, and both drivers are screaming "It was your fault" at the tops of their lungs.
The more benign moments of obliviousness can be more funny than anything else. We decided to stop in town for lunch. At the lunch counter I watched several people walk up to the clearly marked exit door and try to come inside. Now obviously this had been a problem in the past as the door had the exterior door handle removed. What was amusing was how angry these people would get until someone kindly, or not so kindly, pointed out that the entrance door was on the side of the building.
But, all these observations got me to thinking about the past and what would have happened to these people back in the hunter gatherer days, or even just a few hundred years ago. People who were not aware of their surroundings would end up dead due to accident or starvation. Even those who were very aware of their surroundings suffered from calamity but those who walked through the world in a dream didn't survive very long, and rarely long enough to have children. The children were taught to be aware as well. But, somewhere along the way we lost that over powering need to pay attention.
Now don't get me wrong. I suffer from obliviousness on occasion as do most people. Perhaps I am luckier than most people. I work in a job where not paying attention will get you killed by crushing or electrocution and so I have a tendency to be very focused on my work. Unfortunately, I can be to focused sometime as I tend to miss the more subtle things going on around me, but at least those subtle things won't kill me.