Collective spontaneous experiences lacking

An older friend told me the other day that he missed a feeling of being in sync with fellow citizens. He went on, “The only time I feel really part of our community is at sports events or political rallies.”  It got me thinking… why do we older men and women hanker after a time of old? Were olden days better financially? Were they less stressful? Were they a “better time” as some claim?

What I can say is that we were once time-coordinated, lived our lives in a more locked-step cohesive way with our fellow citizens. If you were in the big city — any big city — there was a time for work to begin, the sidewalks were busy, the commuter trains crowded, the elevators packed. If you worked at a factory, the steam whistle told the world that a production shift was about to begin. 

If you returned home, you needed to turn on the TV at a certain time to catch your favorite show — there was no DVR, no VHS, and no limitless on-line resource to destroy that collective viewing spontaneity of your favorite show when you knew everyone would be watching. Ask yourself, didn’t the Apollo 11 landing seem more momentous because you knew everyone on the planet was watching in real time?

I made a TV special for ABC in 1988 and it scored a rating of 22. Nothing makes a 22 these days, not even the Superbowl. Why? Well, yes, there are many more channels, but ratings are measured on the day of first broadcast and no one knows how many see the recorded show in the coming weeks and months. 

As an example, the collective ratings for the reruns of Frasier are now higher than original broadcast, but no one watches at a uniform time so there is no collective experience, no morning after water cooler discussion.

When you go to the movies, why are you there? Is it really because your giant screen TV at home is not good enough? Not usually. What you go to the movies for is a collective spontaneous experience, a shared empathy and thrill with other people just like you. 

When you watch a favorite TV show at home, do you watch alone oris the experience always better when shared? Can you really thrill at the talent on Jeopardy if you watch alone or does it become quickly boring? To be human is to share, not to revel alone. Experiences alone lose context, feeling, empathy of those around you. Somehow they are less humanity and more like cold events.

The film business is always referred to as a family affair when it comes to the day’s shooting schedule. Why? Precisely because everyone is on the same schedule, in the same locale, working toward the same goal. Any actor or soundman or cable-puller will tell you that when the last day of a shoot is over, the depression sets in. Why? Because the routine, the oneness with each other will not be there tomorrow. That collective experience, once gone, leaves a gaping hole.

And so it is becoming in our modern society. We’re losing the real life collective spontaneous experiences — it’s a modern gaping hole in our psyche. In our desperation to rekindle that feeling of oneness with those around us, we become more polarized, desperate to search out cliques where we feel we can sense we may belong. In so doing, we shut out disparate voices and opinions. 

We pick sides in absolutism arguments that, decades ago, would have been impossible. Decades ago one could wear an “I Like Ike” button or wave a “No More War” banner, neither of which removed you from the rest of humanity.

Is it any wonder sports fans are happiest when packed into a stadium or bar? Is it any wonder that religious groups get pushed into more extreme beliefs where oneness is only possible providing you lock out anything that isn’t? Is it not amazing that political discourse has become so polarized that seemingly sensible men and women are Quislings onto their own beliefs and morals to the point of becoming obscene?

Perhaps, knowing the very real human desire to share collective experience, can help discussions around the nation, allowing us all to retrench and recapture the real values of the past, once it wasn’t about a recalcitrant “me” but more about a satisfying “us.”

Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.