I read a post on one of my favorite blogs today, sweetjuniper. For those who don't care to go read it (it's lengthy), the core story is that Dutch was in Generica (strip mall in suburb area) at a party store, when an old man came in looking for mylar balloons which commemorated his 60th wedding anniversary. He wanted to take them to his wife in a nursing home, who wouldn't really know the difference. He told his little story to the clerk who was disinterested and didn't interact with the old guy at all.
Most of the people on the post were noting how sad it must be for that little old guy, and how shitty these people were for not just reaching out and hugging the guy. Then there were the mom-and-pop store jihad folk, who wanted to say it's all because of Big Box America that clerks you talk to in stores don't give a shit about you or about their jobs. Some wanted to say, "hey, the kid's a teenager, cut him some slack". I tend to think those people are parents of teenagers, but whatever. There was some wistful hearkening back to the good ol' days of yore, when people cared about their customers, got to know them by name, gave good service.
But none of this was really the point of what Dutch was trying in there to say. Basically he was surprised that this little old guy even shared his story, because that's not how our current "society" typically interacts. It is how HIS society, back in his youthful days, did interact. People didn't have the internet to "talk" to each other. If you wanted to meet people, you went out on the town with your friends. You went to a dance, to a drive-in, to the soda fountain, or to church. You met people at the grocery. If you wanted to buy something, you went to the store to buy it. And you probably didn't have the 412 choices we have today. The guy selling it to you was knowledgeable about his "craft", whatever good or service he was in business to provide. Everything involved a lot more direct person-to-person interaction than we do today.
Why is that? Are we in love with convenience? Are we lazy? Are we a new breed of massive introverts? What is it that causes us as a society to withdraw so significantly from each other that we barely even have that which used to be called a community?
I take a look at myself - I'm a bit of an oxymoron in this vein. Yes, I'm introverted, but I'm not a hermit [crab]. But admittedly, my preferred method of communication back and forth with a good many friends is via email. It isn't that I don't like to talk - I talk to my mom and sister just about every day. But I like the fact that I can write something and check back later for an answer, rather than calling and leaving a voicemail, and waiting for a call back, or talking. I like face-to-face interactions better than the telephone or email, however, so I'm not hopeless. But the point wasn't lost on me that the concept of community is slowly eroding around us. That's sad. But more than it being sad, it's a call to action. If that isn't something that I want for our lives, if that's not something I want to pass on by way of example to my daughter, I need to behave differently to create a different experience. I am generally speaking polite and courteous when I'm out and about with people. Sometimes I can tend toward impatience when I'm around someone who is ignorant and blocking my way, but even then, I try and just talk myself down from it and let that go. But moreso than just not being rude in public, I think there's a stronger effort required to frequent the businesses in my neighborhood, develop even more relationships with people in my area, sit on my porch and play in the front yard with Hootie more. Talk to people as they go by. We're very lucky in that we live in a neighborhood where there are porches and sidewalks and neighborhood groceries and bakeries and wine shops and delis. In some of the more recently built neighborhoods, you rarely see people even outside. If they are, it's in their back yards, behind a 6-foot fence, guarding their privacy. People drive into their garages, close the door, enter their houses, and don't even interact with their neighbors at all. I don't want that, but instead of just saying I don't want that, I need to be responsible for not HAVING that. For going out there more, meeting more of the neighbors, being more involved, and being more open and responsive when other people open a line of communication with me.
I know my child is going to grow up with technology at her fingertips, but I hope and pray we manage to teach her that technology doesn't and shouldn't take the place of real, face-to-face human interaction. That's what emotionally feeds us. It isn't that we cannot also connect with these tools - I've gained a broader view by all of the insights and perspectives I read on the internet, and have developed some tentative e-relationships through that mechanism. But it certainly isn't my primary interaction mechanism, and shouldn't be.