Real things and coming together, why they matter

Excerpt from Real Things and Why They Matter, at Yes! Magazine


As I was finishing Revenge of the Analog, I remembered a book I’d read a few years before—Barbara Ehrenreich’s Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. Her thesis lends weight to Sax’s research. She shows how throughout history people danced in the streets for the delight and joy of it. Collective joy! Doesn’t that sound wonderful? But the dancing declined as social hierarchy developed—the kings and knights and rich people always disapproved. Ehrenreich concludes that the powerful don’t like people gathering because people who dance in the streets can’t be controlled.

Could this vision of collective joy be relevant to our reclamation of the analog? Are we being controlled by the corporate digital life? Can we break free? Only if we have the connection and empathy that emerges when we come together.

Are these marches and protests our version of collective joy, of dancing in the streets?

Experiencing empathy gives us the power to resist those who would control us. We need empathy for the sake of life. Do we see it beginning to happen in the marches and protests that Trump has provoked? Are these marches and protests our version of collective joy, of dancing in the streets?

So there are hidden depths in Sax’s book. We start off learning about the interesting, yet—to me—insignificant re-emergence of an interest in vinyl records. We end up with the conclusion that true creativity and change can only come from people joining together, creating community and a caring culture.

As I read Sax’s book, my Thoreau quote kept presenting itself, reminding me of our human desire to live with depth and aliveness. And what did I find in the last chapter? Sax returns to a summer camp he attended when he was a boy, a place named Camp Walden. In revisiting it, he discovers young campers who are grateful that they have been denied the use of their digital devices. The camp flyer states, “We want campers to experience nature with all their senses, and engage directly with each other without the separation of a screen.”

“Directly with each other”—how wonderful.

So, I continue to meet face to face with my simplicity circle, enjoying that a digital social networking tool brought us together, allowing us to experience the depth and aliveness of meeting directly with one another.