Streaming

From the train that passed along the quays and between the skyscrapers, he saw the ticker every day, the headlines from the wires scrolling around, bringing summaries in a dozen words of the day’s happenings, keeping the surroundings informed. Sometimes it appeared that it was arguing with itself, failing to impose order on the world it beheld:

‘Suicide bomber kills at least ten in north western Pakistan —– Suicide bomber kills at least five in north western Pakistan —– Suspected suicide bomber kills five in north western Pakistan’.

At other times, headlines shorn of stories would pass silently by, conveying nothing except, occasionally, a vague sense of surreality:

‘WORLD NEWS FROM REUTERS —– Brexit would “spoil everything” – Cameron —– Fukushima’s Ground Zero – No Place for Man or Robot’.

Anyone who saw it saw it in passing: looked up from a book or from thumbing a phone, noticed a headline, went back to their own distractions while the train passed overhead. Sometimes, he would be aware of the angry light it cast on the shiny surfaces of the facing tower, apprehend the movement of the letters but pay no attention. Who was it for? The people in the offices couldn’t see it, and in any case had their own screens to turn their suppositions about the meaning of events into bumps and dips in a bottom line.

Once, passing that way on a Saturday, the plazas below filled with shoppers and the development’s absurdly-uniformed security guards, he looked at the towers and saw the lightless windows of a few offices, gappy between the pointless weekend glow of empty offices with the lights left on. He saw, too, that the ticker, was glitching while it scrolled, broadcasting a jagged stream of news and nonsense:

‘Tesco reports prof     $&”(^ ng as acc*(T^&E% to City’.

On Sunday, the silent ticker had been silenced completely: no broken reflections of its smooth LEDs in the cold water of the dock below, no reassuring right-to-left passage of events. Its silence made the movement of the few people below seem choppy and chaotic.

Its absence brought home the strangeness of its daily presence, and he reflected that he did not know why it was there at all. It offered no context or explanation, and nobody paid it a moment’s thought. Insistent and shallow, it silently informed him that he must be informed, that its selected flow of events was what mattered in the world, that these were things worth reacting to. Among the avenues of glass and steel in the business district, it declared that he would be fed what he needed, interpreting nothing, meaning nothing. The headlines rendered the world as a constant stream of ephemera passing over sixty feet of building, before disappearing with no one the wiser, leaving only the remote sense that the immediacy of their own lives was of no moment.

Photo credit: Ben Jeffrey via Flickr