“Excuse me, do you happen to know the wireless password?” Seems to be the only appropriate unsolicited contact between strangers in a café these days. I wonder if café culture is dead and what killed it.
Admittedly, I have ”shit-face” – That is, I don’t look particularly friendly or approachable most of the time. My face defaults to a sort of droopy, darkly blank, my-dog-just-died, sad, angry, scowl. I take this into account while writing about being friendly and connected in my community. My face simply is not often conducive to random conversation, although I do often try.
It would be easy for me to sit here and finger headphones, smartphones, tablets, and laptops for diverting and draining our species of our drive to connect face to face, and replacing it with a drive to connect online and in text, but I don’t believe that technology is the only culprit. First, I blame the economic environment I grew up in, and you guessed it, I blame Ronald Reagan. It wasn’t until Ronnie waltzed into office, ripped the solar panels off of the roof of the White House, allowed thousands of Americans (who deserved it) to die, and then completely changed the economic environment in this country in such a way that middle class Americans could no longer survive on a single income; therefore, driving both parents to work, grandma to an old folks’ home, and for the first time in human history sent me, my sister, and my entire generation to empty houses every day after school to raise ourselves on fruit roll ups and after school specials. Ronnie taught us that the world was a godless and dangerous place that we all needed to be hermetically sealed against. Nancy taught us that our neighborhoods were riddled with drugs and deception. My sister taught me that every time the door bell rang we were to panic, run, and hide. I have good friends who still panic, run and hide when the door bell rings.
This newly designed environment was chock full of hidden threats hungry to lure us in, and wreck our lives by manipulating and changing our core values through rap music, video games, music videos .. Cable television, in general. Nothing was safe (except Thursday night “Must See TV”). In some rare and very extreme cases, these seemingly benign agents of sin could actually slip a razor blade into your after school snack, or give a person full-blown, end-stage AIDS. The 80’s were frightening, you just couldn’t trust anyone.
A new form of ambivalence was formed in the 80’s, of course the world was no stranger to ambivalence, but majority, middle class America was still very new to this confusing state. While the 60’s started the ball rolling, and the 70’s fully caught majority Americans’ up to the rest of the world in its loving distrust for everything, it was in the 80’s that Childhood Onset Ambivalence was forged over fat-free, ham and cheese, Hot Pockets, and after school cartoon reruns. We were taught angst and basic rabble rousing by pioneering, decades old subversives, like Bugs Bunny. We we taught the nuance of fucking shit up while being cute and almost completely inactive by way of Tweety Bird and The Roadrunner – perfect examples for a generation of able-bodied, young shut-ins.
Subsequent generations have only deepened the “cool” of ambivalence, and upped detachment by morphing it into boredom, and/or apathy. In the unfortunate event that one might be somehow forced, in a social setting, to speak to a twenty-one year old, said young’un will probably be completely oblivious to verbal communication, yet he/she might still, and confidently, glance up from multiple phone-based text conversations to let you know that they do not want to sleep with you (remember, this is a generation of people raised on internet porn, MTV based competitive dating game shows, and on average started blowing each other at the ripe age of eleven).
AND, this leaves us right where we are. We are never alone, we bring our friends with us in our pockets, everywhere we go, yet we remain isolated and detached in our physical space. We don’t trust a profile without a face, but we are beginning to distrust faces without profiles. Is it fear of rejection or is it fear of an unpleasant attachment that has us all hiding in our electronics?
Maybe social media has spoiled us, behind the scenes marketing teams are constantly devising ways, and sometimes pushing technology to deliver an individualized “relevant experience”. Our lives curated by Google, Facebook, and Yahoo. The problem and the beauty of the real world is that there is randomness here, yet we are limited by space, and human ability. Online we can cover worlds of intellectual ground in one hour, while in the real world we can only cover a bit of space in a mostly linear fashion. If a hippy in a café tries to sell you a pocket vaporizer, you can’t just close the window, I get that. But you can probably get a few hits out of the deal and a good laugh. See, annoying randomness turns to fun randomness.
Maybe technology is the answer, as long as we can turn it off when we get to where we are going. I find that events that originate online sometimes yield real-time social situations that are actually social. Again, people’s willingness to be open seems to require a curated experience which has supposedly been drained of randomness. No hippies hashing your mellow with a sales pitch = more openness and opportunity for connection. But that’s not going to get you high is it?