Secret Obsession: People Watching

hello all,

Here’s an obvious statement: there is a huge debate regarding privacy going on right now, on and about the very internet where you are reading this. It’s largely concerned about two things: self disclosure, and how companies/organizations/evil empires are using our data. No matter where you stand on this issue, you can find out a lot of information about total strangers, if you are so inclined. (And despite all the concern about online privacy, I can’t remember the last time I heard somebody express concern about meatspace privacy.)
Which brings me to the point: people watching. For the uninitiated, you (the curious citizen) trek out to some sort of public venue IRL and…observe. Sometimes it’s called crowd watching, but I don’t really think that’s accurate, because you don’t watch the whole crowd so much as individuals and groups.
Of course, nobody just does this as a way to spend a lazy Sunday. This is an activity for when you are in a public space without an objective. You’re waiting for public transit or killing an hour in between classes, and there are other people sharing this space with you. Lucky for you, these lovely folks are an excellent source of entertainment. Stare at them, eavesdrop on them, draw little doodles of them, wonder about their lives, or use them as inspiration for whatever type of art you do. Steal their fashion ideas and fume at their opinions.
Now, you don’t have to go full Harriet the Spy on people. (I had no idea until starting this piece that Michelle Trachtenberg, pre-Buffy and Gossip Girl was in the Harriet the Spy movie, but obviously this is vital information that everybody should know.) Don’t be mean, don’t get too involved. Don’t spend so much time thinking about a stranger that you fall in love with them. And for your own sake, do not get caught. As fun as people watching is, it is a little rude. Don’t get me wrong, that’s part of the thrill of it, but for the most part, you don’t want to follow anybody anywhere or make eye contact or let them catch you laughing at their jokes. (And for the last two, I speak from experience.)
The point of the whole exercise is to be aware of people that you may only see for ten or fifteen minutes, and let yourself wonder about them. It can be fun to observe the people around you without drawing attention to yourself and every once in a while you’ll get a real gem: somebody who looks like the coolest person alive, or maybe two people having a really interesting conversation. It can be interesting to watch how people interact with strangers and with their own family. (For example, how did somebody treat the waitress? How did somebody treat their kid?)
Anyway, it’s food for thought, and way better than staring off into space while you wait for the train.

have fun,

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