John McCann

Creating common experiences

In Culture & society, Early Predictions, Human nature on March 21, 2006 at 9:08 pm

Almost 10 years ago (October 22, 1996), Bill Machrone wrote an article for PC Week titled “The End of Common Experience”

“We don’t sit out on the front stoop any more. We don’t watch the first 15 minutes of Carson before we hit the sack so we can laugh together at work the next day. We don’t all watch the Ed Sullivan show on Sunday night. Our local newspaper is beleaguered by the pressures of steadily decreasing readership, higher costs, and less advertising. We don’t even work in the office any more. Between telecommuting, time on the road, and staying in hotels, the once-reliable office routine is a vanishing reality for more and more Americans. Dozens of other common experiences have disappeared from our lives, but I’ll focus on the changes driven by technology. The advent of 50 or more channels on cable has completely stratified our television viewing experience. Our community is defined as never before by our age and our interests, not by our physical location. The evening newspaper is extinct, and the televised evening news may be on the endangered list, supplanted by all-news channels. As people begin to turn to the Internet for news or to future sophisticated hybrids of television and the Internet, the advent of personal pages and customized views makes any commonality of experience even less likely.”

I find this situation to be worse today than it was in 1996 with the advent of new media, the continual decline in newspaper reading, the increasing number of cable TV channels, etc. I really like his statement that “Our community is defined as never before by our age and our interests, not by our physical location.” I pursue most of my interests on the web, rather than in conversation with my friends because I do not share their interests.

But on the other hand, I participate in groups that have been created to bring together people with common interests. I have a fishing group that goes to the beach in the Spring and Fall and has lunch every other week; a Sunday School class that reads and discusses the same book; a movie club that sees and discusses the same movie; another couple who we visit weekly to watch and discuss an HBO show; I teach a course on technology because it gives me an opportunity to discuss one of my main passions with other interested people; I play cards once a month with friends as a way to “shoot the breeze” about topics of common interest; I hike with a group that meets every Saturday and goes on weekend outings every couple of months.

What’s the point? You can have a common experience in today’s world but you have to create or find the structures. They no longer occur naturally because there are simply too many choices in our lives. This seems particularly true as we get beyond our youth, a period when such groups seem to occur more naturally.


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