I remember watching shows like Gunsmoke and Little House on the Prairie, with endearing characters who were part of a community. These shows are coming back in rerun probably because the familiarity of the characters makes us all feel connected, like we know them and they know us.
The “virtual world” is an isolating, sort of sterile place. The drive up bank near me is closing, encouraging people to use their phones and computers to do their banking. I don’t know about you, but the teller at the drive up window was a touch stone for me. I used to take my late great dog for a biscuit (his withdrawal when I made my deposit). Nancy, the teller, and I had a relationship. A real, human, eye-contact, smiling relationship. She felt bad when my dog passed and I knew she had an aging dog as well.
Our facial expressions are crucial in communication. Face-time and Skype don’t quite do it. That pixel thing and the freezes and delays aren’t organic. The energy exchange among people creates a sense of connected community.
I notice that people are facing downward toward their cell phones. I almost ran a woman down because she was texting while crossing a driveway, mesmerized by whatever chit chat she was having with someone who wasn’t physically present. A little slower reaction time on my part, and she wouldn’t have been present.
I know every generation has a commentary on what is coming up under them. Maybe each generation is right… Abandoning the tried and true in favor of what is expedient or immediately gratifying isn’t always an improvement. In fact it makes us lazy and entitled. Now we’re lazy and entitled with flat, unresponsive facial affect.
When I’m teaching I’m conscious of making animated facial expressions. I try to be conscious of creating a sense of community in the classroom by knowing my students individually. This isn’t easy with large classes, but to be a nameless, faceless person in this world is to feel disaffected. Disaffected people can do terrible things as we see much more frequently in the very bad news via media.
Try to make your face available. Surprise people with your concern and participation in the flow of life. Be fully present, not distracted by before and later. Now is the only reality, and it’s the place to create community.