We are social beings
Prad has been gone a little less than two days. I thought I would enjoy this weekend alone, and purposely did not schedule any social activities with my girlfriends. Fourty eight uninterrupted hours, that I could spend doing all the things I love most! Blogging, swimming, taking long walks, reading, vegging. With only a few interruptions from Catherine, on the rare occasions when she still needs something from me. The truth is, being alone sucks. And virtual connections are no substitute for flesh encounters with good friends, family, and even strangers. Every day, my eighty five year old mother goes out for grocery shopping. She does not need to go that often, but she ventures out, still, for the human interaction with the shopkeepers. “Otherwise, I would go crazy.” She lives alone, with only one neighbor she can visit. All her friends have died, and she lives far away from me and my brother. My mother has never been very good at making social connections outside of our immediate family. Over the years, her active social network has diminished to practically nothing. Her life is hell.
Socialization, the way it used to be
Being in the house, alone, I was thinking about all the ways that people socialize nowadays, versus, let say, fifty, a hundred years ago. And I went right back to my days on the farm, with my mother and my grandparents. Socialization was embedded in the fabric of our lives, then. Sunday was going to the market on the horse carriage to the nearby town. The market was a social event, where you got to meet all your friends from other villages. It took us forever to make our way through the whole square, so busy my grandfather was talking to one or the other. Then there was Sunday mass right after. The best part was sitting in the church, and feeling surrounded by the whole community, our community. Of course, the whole village was out and about during the day. Everybody knew everybody, and would stop at each other’s houses. At night, during winter, there were stories told around the fire. My favorite sitting spot was way in the far corner of the fireplace, real close to the flames. I had a little chair that barely fit. If I got too close, my face started to burn. Too far, I started feeling cold. I would spend my time, trying to find the right distance, while listening to the adults’ conversations. The highlight of the year was the batterie, a day of celebration for the whole village signaling the completion of a successful harvest for the wheat crop. Each year, the batterie took place in a different house, and I still remember the time whey we were the hosts. The women had prepared a feast and I had helped. The men, all sweaty from a day in the fields, were laughing and drinking wine, and everybody had something to say to me, la petite. We were pretty happy on the whole, back then. Our basic need for socialization was taken care of.
Estimated score on the collective happiness index: an 8. Total carbon footprint: zero, with the exception of the wood burning.
Socialization now, and why it’s not working
Things are different now. In Silicon Valley where I live, there is a lot of socialization, but you’ve got to plan it. I am fortunate enough to live in a great neighborhood, with neighbors who actually talk to and help each other. But the bulk of our socialization centers around driving from place to place, from activity to activity. For parents, it often means chauffeuring a bunch of kids in SUVs, to sports events. I live very close to the Stanford campus. The other day, I was walking at night, and noticed the soccer field, brimming with activity. There was a night game, and parents had come cheering. What got to me were the bright lights, and the amount of electricity that’s required for that type of social event. Shopping is another big pet peeve of mine. Shopping is a social outlet for many women, and men, and teenagers. All driving to the mall, often without any real need for anything. Only the need to shop. And to go to a place filled with people, with guaranteed opportunities for social transactions. These are just two examples. I keep reading reports that our happiness is way down. Our lives nowadays tend to be fragmented between various networks, that are geographically dipersed. This requires more work on our part, and results in more superficial social ties.
Estimated score on the collective happiness index: 4. Total carbon footprint: it’s going to kill us, unless we change our ways.
Socialization, as part of the green solution
In the search for a green solution, maybe we ought to consider strategies that address this fundamental need we have as social beings, for relatedness and community? It may not be all of the solution, but in my opinion, it ought to be a main part. Looking for ways to rebuild local communities, around non carbon producing activities, or even better, around carbon reducing initiatives. Recognizing that the deeper human need is not about consuming, but socializing instead. The emergence of virtual green social networks is a step in the right direction. It is only one step, however. Virtual connections can only go so far. Eventually, people need to meet, and feel physically connected to each other, around a common activity. The churches, the villages are gone. We need to find a substitute for the mall culture. To do with community, neighborhoods, nature, stories, rituals, work, play, and celebration.
Anticipated score on the collective happiness index: 8. Anticipated total carbon footprint: negative. What do you think?