Meeting people, 20th-century style
I was at a pancake breakfast this past Saturday when my eating partner met up with an old friend. They hadn’t seen each other for a while and began to catch up, asking each other the typical how-have-you-been questions.
When the old friend left the table, I asked my friend how he met her. He prefaced his story by saying “it’s a funny story actually…” and he went on to tell me that a lawnmower first brought them together.
A lawnmower. It was then I realized that this was a story about the ways people met, the ways we formed relationships in a time gone by.
A few years back Matthew, my pancake-eating buddy, walked his neighborhood to get the blood circulating and keep the calories at bay. One day, his neighbor Irene was out on the lawn staring down a malfunctioning lawnmower. He stopped by and asked if he could be of help. They became neighborhood friends.
It was a lawnmower. If you’re reading this, it means you’re not on your phone, scrolling through Facebook or taking a selfie. Your reading an actual newspaper, in your hands, and you probably met someone via lawnmower.
We don’t meet people anymore, not like we used to before camera phones and online dating sites. We don’t meet people by looking at them, seeing their faces, the movement of their eyes and the twitching of eyebrows.
We don’t meet people and listen to their voices, feel the shaking of a hand, the warmth of a hug.
Now, we only imagine people. We see images online and try to figure out who’s behind them. What we could see and feel in the 20th century, we think and create today.
Often our imagination falls short of our expectations. Relations are formed and ended through texts, messages of love and hate less than 50 words in length. We interpret emotion and intention through computer screens and smartphones.
When Irene showed up at our breakfast table, her reaction to seeing an old friend was real. She remembered conversations because she heard a voice. She smiled as she spoke because the smile she was seeing was familiar.
Technology is wonderful in so many ways. It does bring people together. It builds connections, promotes causes and creates awareness for so many good things.
But it can’t replace the powerful interactions between real people and the lifelong relationship-building behaviors that only we can develop and nurture.
So put your phone down. Turn off your computer. Take a walk around the neighborhood. It seems so last century, but who knows, you might see someone staring down a menacing looking lawnmower and make a friend for life.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on March 3, 2016.