One of the gifts I got this Christmas was the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. I’m a Mac person and have been for 20 years now, and a baby boomer like Jobs, so I’m looking forward to the read.
When I mentioned this to a good friend of mine, he chirped something to the effect that Jobs was a genius who turned a whole generation into social misfits. We had a good laugh over this, but then I started to think about what he said and how the digital revolution has changed the way a lot of people, particularly the teens and twenty-somethings, interact with each other and the rest of society. It’s kind of ironic, perhaps telling, that Jobs established his amazing company on a people-friendly premise, and in an era when the capacity of technology to separate us from each other, as well as connect us, was in its infancy.
There’s been a lot written, I know, about how human beings relate in the digital era, but it hits you in the face every time you walk into a public space, visit the mall, get on public transit, or even go to a ball game. Everywhere you turn it seems, people are choosing to isolate themselves from those around them, preoccupied with their smart phones, iPods, or whatever electronic item they have in their possession.
Are we so bored with our own kind that an electronic gadget holds more fascination than the stranger next to us? There’s no more complex organism on this planet than the human being, each with a different story to tell, yet so much of the possibility that exists for experiencing the little joys of discovery and emotional connection with other people remains untapped when we close ourselves off physically from each other. Yes, we can make contact via the digital universe, but there are many subtle and not so subtle aspects of human contact that cannot be easily or at all conveyed by technological means.
Technology is seductive, there’s no two ways about it, and I’m the first to admit that I get lost within it’s grip more than I probably should. And yet, when I stop to think about the experiences in a day that had made me feel alive and warm inside, it’s most often the ones involving other people in close proximity–the smile lighting up the face of a lone security guard or weary cashier with whom I initiated a chat; witnessing a gesture of kindness; experiencing a courtesy from a fellow driver; engaging with the friendly dog walker on the street.
This is not just about what we receive; it’s as much about what we give. When we open up to somebody else we are offering something of ourselves. However little it may seem to us, it can be huge for the other, perhaps even life-changing. I probably get way more out of dropping a loonie in a panhandler’s palm most times than the panhandler himself. But there have been incidents, I know, where my willingness to reach out and connect with somebody on the down and out has sparked a light within them, perhaps renewed their faith in their fellow man, if only for a brief time.
I’m no Jack Layton. I have to frequently remind myself that I am not better than the next person, just different in some ways. But our similarities are as important as the differences. We all need a roof over our head and a meal in our belly. We all need hope, we all need love, and we all need to feel a sense of worth. We all need food for the soul and nourishment of spirit. Sometimes it’s just not in us to be able to find that within ourselves. Sometimes it takes the goodness of someone else to help make it happen.
Best of the season and a great New Year to you all.