It's not a big insight to say that many people walk through life fairly disconnected from the people (strangers) around them (see Bowling Alone for a very long discussion on the topic). We're all pretty caught up in our own lives - whether it's busyness, laziness, fear, increased focus on the individual or something else that keeps each of us isolated in our own small universe. So, it's always interesting to note what makes people reach out and connect, even if it's just a friendly hello, a wave or some other small acknowledgment that we're all walking this planet together.
In my day-to-day life, I find this connection most often when I'm out on a run or playing at the park with our dog or our son. Out running on the trails, it seems natural and commonplace to connect with people with a friendly wave. Even the speedy Boulder professional runners and triathletes that blaze by me often hold up their hand in greeting, though we're clearly in very different leagues fitness-wise. From my own standpoint, when I'm at mile 12 into an 18 mile run, there's a combination of "misery loves company" and taking comfort in thinking that with enough people on the trail, the mountain lions/bears/snakes will stay at bay. With kids or dogs, there's just the obvious focus point for conversation (kids/dogs), though it's interesting that more often than not you just exchange dog/kid names and details but not your own.
Another connection point that I've been noticing increasingly of late is the connection around commerce, around the things that we buy. I first really tuned into this idea in an explicit way about 8 years ago when Ryan drove a Porsche (yes, the cliché Internet bubble purchase). I have always found it hard to justify spending so much on a car, and particularly one so flashy (even when I'm willing to spend money on something, I prefer things that are more stealthily high-brow - ie they may cost a lot, but the value that you're paying for isn't really visible or obvious to most people.) What most amazed me when driving around in the Porsche was that quite often, when we passed another Porsche, Ryan and the other driver would wave at one another. I found this completely ridiculous. I'd always roll my eyes and wonder aloud what it was all about - were they connecting with each other because they're both fortunate enough to have the discretionary income to drive a Porsche or because they're both stupid enough to have purchased this overpriced car? Whatever the reason, I found it fairly ridiculous that purchasing the same item would create a point of connection.
More recently, I've been seeing how pervasive this connection around commerce is among the preschool set. I'm amazed at how fluent some 3/4/5 year olds are in the language of Power Rangers or Transformers. Preferring to hold the commercialism at bay as long as possible, our son doesn't have most of these toys. We're not totally immune to the influence (Q is well versed in the Cars
movie propaganda), but I've decided to hold off on most of the character-driven commercial dynasties as
long as possible. Q doesn't seem to mind and is happy with his more generic toys (tinker toys, legos, cars, etc).
After watching the kids at school or on the playground, or listening to a speech from my son's 4- year-old playmate about the glories of Optimus Prime, I have had moments where I've felt somewhat guilty, that I'm denying him this point of connection with some of the other kids. While Q doesn't seem to have a real sense that he's missing anything, it's obvious that these toys do serve as a bridge between kids, providing a platform where they all speak the same language and know the rules of play. I'm left with the dilemma of balancing my personal preferences and values while not denying my son a point of connection (even if he's not aware of what he's missing).
I was recently pleased to find a commerce-connector product that didn't create such a moral dilemma for me. Yesterday, we were introduced to the glories of Crocs (a Boulder-based company). Of course I've seen them around for years, noted their pervasiveness, but basically thought they were pretty ugly. Ugly or not, the people behind these shoes are absolute geniuses, and have created a ubiquitous commercial connector.
A few weeks ago, Q noticed the Crocs in the cubbies at his gymnastics class and asked what they were. Then we saw them when we were checking out at the local Wild Oats. This time he said he wanted a pair. Other than an interest in shirts with guitar pictures, this was the first time Q had ever expressed an interest in any particular clothing item, so I figured it was reasonable to indulge the request. Happy does not begin to describe how pleased he was to have his shoes. Once we added the Jibbitz (most brilliant product add-on ever?) he was beside himself with excitement. But what blew me away was how quickly the shoes proved to be not just something to cover his feet, but a social lubricant.
We left the shoe store and headed out to the play area on Pearl St. Immediately, Quinn got engaged in a conversation about Crocs/Jibbitz with a little girl who was playing on the climbing equipment (I'm fairly certain Q had Jibbitz envy as the girls shoes were completely covered in them). He had a conversation with an older girl by the fountains about why she wanted to take her Crocs off before going in the water, but he wanted to keep his on. An hour later, he and I sat at the bar at The Kitchen for dinner and Q turned to the woman sitting next to him and asked if she had Crocs too.
The Crocs provide the point of common connection/experience, while the Jibbitz offer the potential for individuality and personal expression, and provide further topics for conversation. While in general I'm not a huge fan of these commerce connections, I find the Crocs/Jibbitz connection basically innocuous and just have to sit back and admire the pure genius of the inventors.