Just finished a fun conversation with one of the baristas at Emy J’s, Mindy, concerning Sherry Turkle‘s thought on much of modern society being alone together. I heard Dr. Turkle lecture at a conference and I find her work fascinating. One of the things Turkle talked about was the change between modern coffee shops and coffee shops of the 18th century. The 18th century coffee shop was where the discussions that led to the American Revolution took place. They were a "third place" that people went to and talked with each other. They may have gone to the coffee shop alone but once there you were a part of a group and you interacted with the group. You might have come to the coffee shop alone but you were together once there.
The modern coffee shop? Well it is still a "third place" but if a person goes there alone he/she often does so to be around others but alone at the same time. Ear buds, ipods, smart phones, tablets, and computers enable us to be within 18 inches of another person and yet completely disengaged from the world we share with them. We can be talking with a "friend" on Facebook while completely unaware of the person who is almost touching us. I know a number of people who come to Emy J’s so I usually have a conversation with a few people when I am here. It is still amazing to me how many people are "alone together" here. I am sure that much of that is purposeful and needed. While working on my dissertation I needed lots of quite time. I would place my earbuds in for two purposes, 1) to use the music to partially drown out the noise around me, and 2) to discourage people from interrupting me. Sometimes this is needed. I completely understand that. I also believe that it is often habit. Someone wants to be around people but has developed the habit of "walling" themselves off and can no longer socially interact with strangers.
Anyhow this was a really fun conversation to have with Mindy while we were standing in a coffee shop. Drr. Turkle talks about this in more depth in her book "Alone Together."