Can We Smile? Interact? Acknowledge One Another’s Humanity?



[A pic from this year’s Honk—which is ALL about takin’ interactions to the streets!]

I’m missing intercourse—in the 19th-century sense of the word. I’m missing eye-to-eye sidewalk interactions as I walk. (And I walk a lot!) Those brief yet vital moments when two strangers pass each other and lift chins or smile or even say “Nice day,” or “How ’bout those Sox?”

How ironic. At a venerable age, when I am no longer in the slightest danger of being misinterpreted if I smile or say hello to another adult, my friendly, only-connect gestures go un-noticed, as men and women and even children stare at their I-phones as they stumble along. It’s sad, really, to see someone “walking” (more like zombie lurching, really) down a busy sidewalk, totally engrossed in whatever they’re viewing on the tiny screen in their hand when suddenly, for whatever reason, they look up. Such befuddled, dazed, “What the—?” confusion—”Oh, right, I’m actually in the middle of Davis Square!”—breaks my heart.

A moment of paranoia: Walking past a Brooklyn subway station I-phone ad recently, I noticed that someone had carefully written in large, block letters, “Your new master.” It is a little scary, isn’t it? This massive zombiefication? MIllions of people lurching along, under the sway of—what? Not the here and now, obviously. Not the living and breathing reality of the moment, whether precious or fraught, they’re experiencing. Yikes.

For us empty-handed folks, as has always been true in New England (a region historically not celebrated for its warmth and friendliness—even before I-phones), there’s always the weather as an interaction-with-strangers starter. “Cold/hot enough for ya?” remains an accepted opening remark around here. Which, unfortunately, amplifies another challenge of the Here and Now: How to answer that seemingly innocuous question? When the actual, real, True answer is along the lines of: “Are you kidding me? This unusually hot day in the middle of November’s scaring the bejesus out of me! I’m guessing it scares you, too, huh?”

Interesting times, huh?



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  1. Checking your email, messages, texts seems to be the new smoking — what you do when the movie is over, when you get off the T, when you’re walking anywhere. You know … I’m going to watch and see if smoking while walking ever accompanies texting while walking; I’m betting not often (how many hands do we have, anyway), but I’m sure if iPhones had been available back in days of higher smoking incidence, people would have managed both at the same time.

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