If I had an infinite amount of free time, I would develop a taxonomy of “objects we wield to avoid interacting with other people on the bus.” If I weren’t so wedded to the idea that sorting things into oversimplified binary categories is really just a convenient way of asking for trouble, I would divide these things into two categories: things that transform others, and things that transform us.

When we hunker down in our seats with a book or a newspaper, we erect a forcefield around our bodies, focusing all our attention on the sports section or the movie reviews. In doing so, we take ourselves outside the bus and transport ourselves to a secret garden that’s nestled within the pages of whatever we’re reading at the moment, far from the people sitting next to us as we rattle down the road.

Listening to music on the bus has a different effect on our fellow travelers. Rather than transporting us away from the other, an iPod or CD player transforms the other into an object of spectatorship. When the right song shuffles through your ears, riding the bus turns into a montage scene from a movie or TV show in which everyone goes their separate ways, their feelings left unspoken but their lives connected by a plaintive ballad or a hopeful anthem.

I’m trying to figure out which of these categories things like cell phones and PSPs fall into. On the one hand, they tend to be absorbing, focusing kinds of devices that pull you out of the bus’s world and into your own, so I guess they would be “things that transform us.” Really, though, such displays of conspicuous consumption make me suspect that there’s a kind of performance happening whenever we whip these shiny, newfangled gadgets out in a public space and start tapping buttons. So now we’re no longer using objects to distance ourselves from others, but to draw them in towards us — while still discouraging direct conversation or interaction. Weird.

So yeah, this is the kind of stuff that goes through my head when I stagger onto the bus in the morning, short of sleep and unable to chug my coffee quickly enough to shake my brain into any kind of meaningful functioning. You see why it’s better for all of us if I sleep in late?