The Death of Common Experience

“Look at all these eggs!  Oh my!  Have you seen Pinterest?” asked the kind, Grandmother-ly woman scanning our four dozen eggs at Target, just days before Easter.

“Hmm?”  I murmured, distractedly, as I struggle to push the gargantuan double-wide cart full of my preschoolers and our Easter supplies through the tiny aisle.

“Pinterest!  Have you seen it?” the cashier asked me.

Well, yeah,  I think.  I’ve been on Pinterest for five years.  I have more than  3,000 pins.  I see lots of stuff on it.  For the love of sunshine, what are you talking about?

“I love Pinterest.  My daughter got me on it.  You have so many eggs!  Look on Pinterest!  You take two hard-boiled eggs and cut them up into the most adorable little hatching chicks,” rambles the cashier.

I’ve got 99 problems, lady, and making a hatching chick out of a hard-boiled egg ain’t one of them, I thought.  All I can handle at the moment is inserting my credit card with the chip facing in the right direction.  I brushed her suggestion off with what I hoped was a friendly smile and was on my way.

Later, the underlying message of our encounter hit me more clearly.  This nice lady, of a certain age, had just joined Pinterest and was excited to share something she learned from it.  Having grown up in a generation in which all of society was exposed to the same information, she naturally assumed that I had seen what she saw if I, too, was familiar with the medium she mentioned.  Pinterest.  She’s on it.  I’m on it.  Surely I saw the hatching eggs.

She assumed I saw what she saw.  She assumed we had a shared experience.  In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In this particular case, our shared interest in Pinterest didn’t connect us.  It drove us further apart.

My Pinterest feed shows me lots of things – recipes, crafts, home improvement projects, fashion and advice geared toward things that I have expressed interest in.  It’s only one of many customized media I deal with on a day-to-day basis.  Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Pandora radio, Hoopla, Netflix, and even my TV’s DVR are customized based on my likes and dislikes, and they give me more of what I ask for and less of what I don’t.  They take my interests and expand upon them at the same time that they diminish the things I haven’t shown as much curiosity in.

We humans have always had unique talents, interests and experiences.  This is nothing new.  However, we also used to have a lot more shared interests and experiences.  When our parents watched a TV program, they likely watched it on a television set they shared with their family members, at a specific time, in a common area such as a living room, with other people that were also viewing the program for the first time in that same setting.  They had to watch it from beginning to end and were exposed to every advertisement that was aired along the way.  When I watch a program on TV today, even if it’s a news program, I can choose what network to view it on, what device to watch it on, when to watch it, who to watch it with, whether I want to skip the commercials or not, whether I want to know the ending by checking my phone or iPad, and what comments and opinions I want to hear or ignore.  Then, when it’s over, I can choose whether I want to see anything like that ever again or ban it from existence in my own little world forever – all just depending on what “like” or “dislike” or “ignore” button I push on a given device.

When we have modern-day conversations, we may assume that others have a common base of knowledge because of our shared human experiences.  We may start a conversation with a phrase such as, “Considering what Trump just did, I …” and we expect that other people know what Trump just did, because after all, they were on Facebook just like we were today.  We saw them “like” a post while we were “liking” another one.  But to assume that two people have a similar base of knowledge because they are exposed to an individualized medium is simply asinine.  There may, in fact, be nothing in common at all.

As our personal preferences and experiences get further customized to our individual interests, what is happening to our shared experience?  Is there such thing as a shared experience at all, or are we drifting further from each other?

The more we customize our devices, the more we isolate ourselves from others.  We are rich with diverse interests and our differences should be celebrated … but are we closing ourselves off to new experiences simply by reinforcing some aspect of ourselves that we arbitrarily expressed one minute of one day of our lives?

I’ll use my Pinterest feed as an example.  We remodeled our kitchen two years ago, at which time I created a “Kitchen” board and started pinning everything from countertops to backsplashes.  Pinterest picked up on my activity and started suggesting more things kitchen-related.  I saw, and started pinning, pictures of spoon rests and automatic dish detergent dispensers.  Then, we finished the project.  We are done.  We are researching backyard decking and cement stamping options now.  Yet, my Pinterest feed still shows me an abundance of kitchen-related pins.  I can’t escape them!   Pinterest doesn’t know that I’ve moved on.  Come on, Pinterest, get with the program!  I don’t want to look at coffee grinders!

Or let’s look at Pandora.  I was listening to a station one day and heard Bruno Mars’ “Lazy Song,” for the umpteenth time and, though I used to enjoy the song, I had had enough.  I hit thumbs down, erased that song from the playlist knowing that it would record my preference and wouldn’t play that darn “Lazy Song” again and moved on with my life.  Then, just last week, I heard the Lazy Song on a local radio station and I actually said, out loud, “Oh!  I love this song.  I haven’t heard it in forever!”

The only constant thing in life is change.  Our job as humans is to grow.  I’m a different Carrie today than I was yesterday, last week or last year.  I don’t want to be tied down to an opinion I stated when I was 14, and I don’t want to be limited to only kitchen-related pins on Pinterest.  I want someone to say something I don’t agree with, occasionally.  I want to be exposed to raw meat at times, even though I eat a predominantly vegetarian diet.   I’d like for someone to challenge my opinion on affirmative action, the death penalty and spelling bees, if not to change my mind than to reinforce my opinion or further increase my knowledge in some way.  I want to grow.  I want to change.  I do love turquoise, but I love red, too.  Show me all the colors.

Popular culture warns us to, “be careful what you wish for.”  Maybe in today’s increasingly individualized society, the mantra should be “be careful what you ignore.”  You’ll get more of what you ask for and less of what you don’t ask for, but how will you ever be certain you’ll get what you need?

Peception is reality.  My perception is that the world is increasingly spiritual, vegan-friendly, anti-Trump, pro-feminist, child-loving, creative, playful and colorful place with an abundance of black iron lighting fixtures.  This perception is reinforced every single day, through every article, video, music clip, advertisement, comment and opinion I am exposed to.   I live in that very world.  That is my reality.  If you’ve liked articles about the patriot act, gun rights and Montsano, your perception is different than mine.  Not better.  Not worse.  Just different.

Our rich, diverse and colorful lives can take us on different paths and isolate us, or we can take control of our experiences and learn from others around us.  I want to know what your reality is.  Talk to me.  Show me.  Teach me.  I’ll promise to look past the dominant messages I’ve asked for on my chosen media if you promise to do the same.  Let’s look at the world from a common ground for a change.  Let’s see how we are alike.  Don’t we owe that to each other?

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