The warmth and energy of communal experiences attract humans to interact with each other.   From schools to restaurants, cultural events to sports, parks to beaches, a magnetic force pulls people into a nexus of socializing. But, as humans increasingly immerse themselves in a digital world, we chip away at the cornerstone of social construction. As we proceed through a pandemic that greatly minimizes in-person experiences, human socialization may be forever altered. 

Take the recent dispute between Universal Pictures and the AMC Theater chain, precipitated by the stay at home orders as a result of COVID-19. Universal announced that movie premieres would bypass theaters in favor of digital platforms. Although theoretically only a temporary response to the pandemic, it created quite a stir in the entertainment world. 

America’s second-largest theater chain, AMC, reacted to this loss of the opportunity to have first run showings by threatening to refuse screening of all Universal titles to come, along with those of other movie companies who choose to go straight to digital. Previously, theaters had exclusive rights to films for 90 days, before a digital release would occur.  Universal broke that rule by digitally releasing the Trolls movie, “World Tour.”  It benefited from the captive audience of Americans at home and hungry for entertainment, who spent over $100-million in rentals within three weeks.

Once Americans begin to leave their homes, if new movie releases continue to bypass theaters in favor of home viewing, theatre chains will not be the only losers.  Americans will miss out on the social interaction that comes with going out to the movies.  

Navigating the perils of childhood through the teen years with fellow students can be just as important as academic instruction. 

Likewise, other reductions in social interactions accelerate what appears to be an epidemic of human alienation. Think about the effect of the pandemic on children.  Schools close throughout the country, giving rise to remote teaching. Home schooling advocates assert that traditional in-person instruction is unnecessary. But that claim overlooks a child’s social development, and the lessons learned through daily interaction with peers. Navigating the perils of childhood through the teen years with fellow students can be just as important as academic instruction. 

In the workplace, COVID-19 threatens to contract office space, as workers get used to remote interaction with customers, clients and colleagues. But missing in that equation will be the synergy created in common spaces, along with the collegial benefits of shared experiences. 

During our ongoing health crisis, we conveniently sit in our dens or great rooms and watch TV programming on a large home screen. But that convenience comes at a cost. Missing is the feeling of a communal experience—in real time–with loved ones and strangers alike. That is the thread that binds people of disparate lives into the fabric of a single feature film. 

I recall a personal sense of awe prevalent in my early movie experiences.  Watching the daunting presence of the big whale in “Moby Dick” or feeling the horror of a character being buried alive in “Ben Hur” in a theatre full of fellow movie fans formed indelible imprints in my memory. The venue in which those memories were born–in Philadelphia’s Logan Theater on Broad Street, in all its grandeur and expanse–formed a lasting impression as to the importance of a single venue. 

As we grow more secluded in our accelerating world of technical innovation, just how much are we sacrificing? What is being compromised as we move away from that which makes us human? 

In his book “Suicide Of The West,” syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg describes tribalism as a force that threatens the very composition of our country. This phenomena forms as people retreat to their own spaces, removing themselves from the presence and ideas of others with varying viewpoints. The digital evolution, now sped up by the pandemic, propels our behavior patterns, with a centrifugal force, into separate corners of existence.

The digital evolution, now sped up by the pandemic, propels our behavior patterns, with a centrifugal force, into separate corners of existence.

If we simply raise both hands and allow the tide to pull us, how soon will it be before we are isolated beyond repair? Sure, it is important to continue to use digital technological advances to make life more streamlined and convenient.  But as we do so, let’s not forget that which unifies us, as human beings. 

Jeff Hurvitz is a freelance writer and native Philadelphian who lives in Abington Township. jrhurvitz@aol.com

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