Last week, I ran into a sailing acquaintance at my favorite coffee shop downtown. This person wasn’t a close friend – just someone I’d gotten to know over the years. We chatted about weather, family, and boats (not necessarily in that order), ordered our snacks, and waved goodbye. Such random encounters are one of the many things I love about living in a small town.
No matter how well technology and social media enable communication, physical proximity still counts. It’s great (mostly) to share everyday life with people on the other side of the world who we see once a year (or once every ten years, or never), but online interaction will never be the same as running into someone downtown. Complaining about the weather, breathing the same air, choosing from a common menu – all those seemingly insignificant experiences create a bond between people who might not otherwise have much in common. That’s why people still leave their computers and e-friends behind and head for the coffee shop, or the bookstore, or the beach.
Around the globe, friends are now sharing snippets of their day from the other side of the world. I first learned about a local tragedy from a Dutch friend who reached out across the Atlantic to the only Rhode Islander she knew. Information we used to wait days or weeks or months to learn – births, deaths, tragedies, regatta results – is all now available instantly.
Our neighborhoods are no longer limited by geography.
And now that we can “hang out” exclusively with the people we choose instead of letting the accident of location choose for us, is it any wonder we’ve become less tolerant of the differences between us?