For the past few weeks, I have been putting my sociology degree to work. It’s funny how you can think something isn’t very useful and then years later it becomes a valuable tool. For those who may not know, sociology is the study of people. A study that analyzes people in social settings and how they create meaning. Sociologists, study human behaviour in order to understand how things impact the individual, the individual in relation to their environment and others.
When you own a lifestyle brand you spend a lot of time in social situations. You’re constantly surrounded by new people and you have to learn how to navigate yourself in these settings. Often times, you may not know anyone in the room. Of course, you can bring a friend in most cases or someone who works with you, but there are times when this isn’t an option. In my opinion, I don’t think it’s beneficial to bring someone with you all the time because it prevents you from making new connections. Not in the business sense (yes obviously this is important at times) but on a human level. So generally, I attend most events solo because I like to step outside of my comfort zone whenever possible. In addition, I find as your interests in life change you need to broaden your social circle. It’s nice to find and connect with like-minded people. Individuals who share the same interests as you and in addition a new viewpoint for you to explore.
Nothing happens in social places anymore
So a few weeks ago, while I waited for a friend of mine to arrive, I decided no time like the present to test out this little experiment. I wanted to see if being social (like way back in the day) in social places still happened. There I was, sitting at the bar taking people in. I was in total field researcher mode. Honestly, for a brief moment, I considered getting my masters in sociology. It’s unlikely but I thought about it. There were two seats next to me that were empty; so I thought perfect. Let’s see who sits here and let’s see if people bother to acknowledge my presence or simply ignore me. Which is generally what most people do, it’s something I am guilty of. These days, for some reason, simple hellos have become risky business. I’m not sure when this happened but it’s our current state of social existence where simple pleasantries in communication are tabu; a thing only our parents did.
Finally, my first subjects arrived. A young couple, perhaps it was their first date or second. They were seated at the bar until a table became available. The young gentlemen acknowledged me, he said “hello”. Good start I thought. His companion was hesitant but cordial. Protecting her territory? Maybe?! I know it’s not good to jump to conclusions but this is how it appeared. I completely understand, at the same time I thought, does being in a relationship mean that you can’t exchange friendly hellos? When did this happen? What’s appropriate? What’s considered inappropriate? As I sat there, I thought about it for a while. I watched them struggle with the appetizer menu. I had eaten there before, so I made a suggestion. Again, the young gentleman was thankful and happy, she was not but agreed that they should try my suggestions. Here’s the thing, there’s nothing worse than ordering something at a restaurant and it isn’t so great. I welcome advice from the table next to me because why not? I could sense she wasn’t pleased that I was sitting there, I could tell she probably wanted me to go away. Please note, she was very sweet.
To be honest, I don’t even want to sum it up to jealousy or anything like that. In my honest opinion, if this was the norm, where people were truly social in social places, where a couple on a date could freely converse with the table next to them without hesitation. No one would be suspicious. If you look back to the history of cocktail bars/taverns let’s say or cafés. These were places where people would gather to socialize. A place where people would come together and share ideas, talk about life, politics and what have you. Then again, back then cell phones were non-existent; you didn’t have a choice. In addition, you probably didn’t have to yell at someone over loud music. What is up with the loud music in places where people would like to actually talk? Enjoy a nice meal with a bit of conversation and laughter. Ambience music needs to become a thing; a new trend.
Now, here we are in the 21st century, we are so social, texting out hearts away. Yet, we are so unsocial and void of true human connections; we have become very fearful. I can think of the friendships I have made, let’s say 10 years ago that occurred as a result of a social function. Actually, when I was a kid, I used to go ice skating every Sunday. Some of the friends I still have to this day, I met at the ice rink on a Sunday. Before texting really was the standard form of communication. I can remember when you could get lost in the night and the moment. Whoever needed to be where you were in that moment was right in front of you; this is all that mattered. I remember being on dates where it was okay if you and your date joined another group of people and made new friends, new connections. I am not ancient, it sounds like it but honestly just ten years ago things were a lot different. What does the future hold? I wonder. I don’t have kids yet, but I wonder if it’s going to be this difficult for them?
The young couple finished their appetizers and thanked me as they left to be seated at their table. So, who’s next I thought? The first encounter, lukewarm if I am honest but fair none the less. Five minutes later, two young women filled the seats the young coupled had just vacated. Two sisters who immediately said hello and began talking to me about their night. They weren’t from the city and were having a girls night out. They were small-town folks like me, I grew up in London Ontario. We chatted about a DJ they were going to see. They invited me to join them. Which was very nice. So of course, and you guys have heard me say this so many times. This got me thinking…Is it a city thing? Do people in the city fear being social? Then again, maybe a date versus out on the town with my sister requires different levels of candor? I don’t think so. But I remember moving from London to Toronto. I could immediately tell there was a different way to go about things. I had to learn how to communicate differently (my London friends and I are very sarcastic) and act differently. To be honest city folks judged you for just being yourself. A self I had come to know just fine in London, a self I liked a lot. My way of being was a point of contention for a select few; city folks were different. I am glad I still had my friends from London because they reminded me that I didn’t need to change one bit.
So perhaps there are some differences, depending on where you live. I have lived in New York, on a short stay, returning to Toronto I remember thinking oh my everyone is so nice in contrast. When I visit certain parts of LA I am reminded again of a chill small-town vibe. At the same token even London has become swept by the I see you, feel you and talk to you only via my phone; no calls please mantra. It’s spreading everywhere, I need to find a place where everyone literally knows each others name. We are so uninterested (unless it serves a purpose) we forget names in a matter of seconds and walk by people we have met before. We send emails announcing the same damn thing we told someone two months ago because we don’t really give a shit unless it serves us.
Love can only happen online. I was out tonight with my friends at a new restaurant in Toronto for dinner. Single gentlemen glancing at their phones filled the bar for every single girl somewhere in the city just one swipe away instead of one step away. This is what we have become? We crave human interaction and yet we push it farther and farther away from something tangible and real. Sometimes it’s not about romance. Sometimes it’s nice to meet new people. Talk about life. This is an important part of the human experience. This is how we learn how to step outside of ourselves for a minute. So when something happens elsewhere in the world or to our neighbour or friend we don’t become aloof. We feel for them.
What happens next?
To be honest, I have no idea. I have become a victim of the times in the sense that I find I text more than I call. In fact, I kind of hate being on the phone, in general, these days. There are days when I don’t even want to look at it. I have inboxes so full I have two phones (one that gets all the emails). I hesitate before I pick up the phone to call someone, something I used to never do.
I guess we can all make the changes that we feel work for us. I know I am not the only person who feels this way. I have taken my own steps (hence two phones) to get back to the art of living. Being social in a world that’s meant to be social. The only glimmer of hope that night, just in terms of sociality, were the two sisters from a small town who effortlessly said hello and effortlessly got social in a social space. The idea that our phone(s) is our best friend is tragic. It’s not that I am against phones and smartphones, I recently got a new Samsung. I love it. It has been a great asset and addition to a lifestyle that requires me to be plugged in. I also realize that I need to embrace moments where I can slip my phone into my bag and not look at it for a few hours. Leave it somewhere in the house so I can fully enjoy a movie I am watching. It’s nice to be unplugged. It’s nice to see the colour of the leaves as they change each season, the best snapshot only for me to see.
I like the fact that the guy at Starbucks knows me and remembers that I still haven’t purchased a rewards card. Each time I step into an Uber I get to know the person behind the wheel rather than stare at my phone. So many great stories I have heard thanks to Uber! It no longer serves me at this point in my life just to go through the motions and pretend. To be seen and not be heard. I encourage you to get out there, stop holding yourself back. Start the conversation and most importantly get to know your neighbor. Diversity in life is essential. I can’t believe they are developing apps for people to make friends (a great idea). At the same time, it’s nice to find people who share the same interests as you. You can keep the same friends your whole life but your interests will vary. Finding like-minded people is beneficial. There’s nothing worse than feeling stuck, suppressed or misunderstood simply because your lifestyle or interests aren’t aligned with your current circle of friends. You’re on your phone anyway, so if this means it will help you become social with new people then I think friendship apps are simply awesome.
At the end of the day…
Don’t isolate yourself. Life can be super lonely. You matter to someone in this world, that’s 100% true. There are people who will get you and are on the same wavelength. The status quo is lame and shouldn’t be followed particularly if it means that being social in social places is uncool. Honestly, people may think you’re weird or stare; let them. Be uncool (but cool obviously at the same time because you’re you) and remember there are no limits, only the ones you give yourself. If you like/love someone tell them. If you want to make new friends put forth an honest effort. If you want to make a suggestion at the grocery store to someone mulling over avocados go for it. If you want to talk about the weather or a great coffee shop in the neighborhood to the person standing at the bus stop with you, just do it. Get involved with your life and your surroundings. You will find that life isn’t so lonely and there’s no much for you to discover and learn. Let’s talk to each other, so we can better understand one another.