When I worked at the zoo in Indianapolis, in 1990, Kodak sponsored several “locations” within the zoo and posted signs indicating that particular spot was a Kodak “picture moment.” In front of the Kodiak Bears, along the walk to the Waters building, in front of a sculptural fountain, families posed for pictures. As an employee, I was frequently flagged down by people wanting a photo of the entire gang. Someone would instruct me on how to point and shoot their specific breed of camera, and I would do my best to make them a memory. Years later, as they look at the picture, I wonder if they remember the zookeeper girl who took it. . .
Today, people don’t need a picture taker anymore; they have selfie-sticks. Singles, couples, entire groups huddle at the end of a handle holding an iPhone and take their own well-orchestrated photo – anywhere, anytime. It’s so convenient! Gone are the days of hailing a total stranger and asking them to take a picture.
But the fact that we’re spending less and less of our lives in need of strangers is, well… just a little strange.
Widespread across much of our country, a new idea has taken hold – that doing things on your own is easier, cheaper, faster, – I guess, . . just better. If we can do as much as possible without the help of others, we think it demonstrates how independent we are. As a result, we keep finding newer and newer ways, not to need each other! I guess what worries me most is, if we don’t need to interact on a daily basis anymore, then what?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of innovation. And I would never advocate halting the kind of creativity that spawned the selfie-stick. In one way, it’s just another cool idea. But at the same time, I do worry that some of our “inventions” are, in fact, isolating us from one another.
When it comes to independence, we’re kind of like little kids learning to tie our own shoes. Part of us really needs to experience our ability to make it on our own. We should be able to take care of ourselves. But I wonder should there be a limit to self-service? Do I need to do everything for myself just because I can?
The fact is, no one is entirely on their own. Most people still share their picture moments with a special someone or even a whole group. They just don’t ask anyone to help anymore. Most of us have an inner circle we turn to – a significant other, friends, family, a few choice co-workers. We’re confident that’s all we need. With our online banking, self-checkout at the grocery, pay-at the pump gas service, and selfie-sticks; who needs to interact with a stranger? Isn’t having a tight “inner” circle enough?
I guess what I’m saying, is that I don’t think it is.
I think we need to interact with strangers regularly, as difficult as that might be. Being forced to “need” others, people we might not know, builds the necessary relationship skills that we need to live a full and vibrant life. Life doesn’t allow us to stick solely to an insular group of people. Sooner or later, we’ll need to connect with someone we don’t know. If all we’ve ever known or trusted are a few close intimates and a screen, are we really independent? Or are we just hanging out in the “safe zone” of relationships – those we can predict and count on – that is until they’re gone . . .
The truth is, real independence is an outcome of interdependence. The more people we can count on, the more freedom of choice we have in our lives. When we know how to act and interact with all types of people, then we can do anything knowing there are people we know who can help and people we don’t know who might also help! We learn how to interact and lean on strangers – at least a little.
On a recent vacation, I decided to buck the self-service system. Anytime I saw anyone trying to capture a “Kodak moment,” I made it a point to offer to take their picture. Some accepted; some did not. For those that did, I want to say, Thank you!
Thank you for allowing me to be part of your “something special.” Thank you for taking me into your lives and giving me purpose, if only for a few seconds. Thank you for the opportunity to be the kind of human being that I’ve always wanted to be – needed, wanted, connected and willing to give to you, a total stranger a bit of my time, if for no other purpose than to make a special memory out of an ordinary moment.