David Byrne wrote an eloquent piece yesterday, in which he said:
“Our random accidents and odd behaviors are fun—they make life enjoyable. I’m wondering what we’re left with when there are fewer and fewer human interactions. Remove humans from the equation and we are less complete as people or as a society. “We” do not exist as isolated individuals—we as individuals are inhabitants of networks, we are relationships. That is how we prosper and thrive.”
That reminded me of a discussion with some co-workers about the supposed rudeness of New Yorkers. In my past experience that stereotype has never been true. I’ve never been let down when asking for help. Sure, the interaction might have been short, because New York is a fast-moving place. But the stereotype? Not true.
I believe that stereotypes are more likely to survive in today’s high information era. One can walk the streets of Manhattan, staring at device while looking at Google maps, Yelp and summoning transport via Uber or Lyft. All the while, never having meaningful conversations with New Yorkers. Certainly not the serendipitous types that Byrne mentions in his post.
So, for all we know, the residents of NYC, Paris, or Berlin, are what the stereotype says they are. This isn’t an improvement. It’s a step back.
That makes me a little sad. It’s personal interactions that make life worth living, not shaving the last tenth of mile off a random walk to a restaurant suggested to you by a total stranger. Or finding the optimal hotel for a couple of days of sight-seeing in a strange town.
It’s not the money, the time, the rational decisions that make life worth living. It’s the people. And when we remove people and replace them with glowing screens and algorithms, we’re the worse for it.
I’m not sure our masters at Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple understand that.
Takeaway: Drop the phone. Have coffee with a human. Pay too much. Take too long to get there. Wander around a little*. Be human. And win.
* From the Tolkien poem in The Lord of the Rings, “Not all those who wander are lost.” You’ll often find me wandering in thought, place, and priorities. I like it that way.