The Real (Non-Digital) World

I spent the better part of Sunday in a stupor watching reruns of The Real World: San Fransisco. When it originally aired in 1994, I was thirteen, sneaking reruns when my Mom wasn’t home because she’d expressly forbid my watching MTV. I remember being impressed by the cast’s sophisticated lives: going to shows, riding cable cars around the city, racing soapbox derby cars down the steep streets of San Francisco, and meeting boys in bars. To my rural barely-pubescent brain, this all seemed wildly exotic and like something I couldn’t wait to do when I grew up.

Watching the episodes nearly 20 years later, I was struck by something different: the complete lack of devices that are now ubiquitous in our lives. When Judd goes out to work on his cartoons in a cafe, he uses pen and paper, as does everyone studying or working around him. When Puck and Cary are talking at a bar, there were no cell phones on the table or in anyone’s hand. There were newspapers in nearly every shot. And the kids were reading them! One even got a job at a paper! I don’t think the casts of the modern seasons of The Real World are even literate.

Perhaps it’s the editing of the show evolving over the decades, but there seemed to be much more stillness in the San Francisco episodes. Nobody is diving for a phone every few seconds. Many of the scenes take place in the house, not during a blur of sloppy nights out at bars that lured the MTV stars inside and provided them scads of free booze. Issues are resolved with calm words (largely), not fists. It made me wonder if we’ve lost something in the past 19 years.

Then this morning I read that our addiction to technology is ruining our capacity to connect with each other in a genuine way.

When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health.

If you don’t regularly exercise this capacity, it withers.

I propose we start throwing Analog Parties.

Invite people by calling them on the telephone (no texting) or sending a physical invitation via the United States Postal Service. Include directions to your home. Instruct guests to leave their cell phones at home. If they must bring them for safety, they will turn them off (not just on silent/buzz, so they’ll hear the purr of the alert and go crazy) and check them at the door. You’ll put them somewhere safe and out of sight. The host will put their phone with their guests’ phones.

The party will look just like any other party. There will be booze and finger food. Ample seating for your guests. And music will play too. But not via your digital cable package or Spotify. You’ll play records (I know you hipsters have a record player and some vinyl kicking around) or CDs—in a dedicated device to play such media. No fiddling with your laptop to get just the right song. If you don’t own a hard copy of “Call Me Maybe,” you don’t get to listen to it.

As with all parties, it’ll start out calmly enough. But eventually, someone will do something silly. Capture the moment on film. Like, an actual disposable camera with physical film in it. Take to a store and get it developed after the party. If you were lucky enough to get a good shot, send it to the subject in the mail.

Your email will be fine for a few hours. Nobody gives a damn where you are or what you’re drinking, so you won’t need to check in to any apps. You’ll hang around with your friends without distraction. You’ll get those neural pathways nice and shored up. Then, you’ll kill them as mankind has since the dawn of time: through heavy alcohol and/or drug use with the people you love most.

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