“Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing.” Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.” Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) “Experience is not what happens to a man. It is what a man does with what happens to him.” Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
I recently revisited my old hometown, Chilliwack – the place where I essentially grew up, went to high school and raised my fair share of Cain. I was there on nursery business; tagging Christmas trees, buying heather and attending an open house at one of my wholesale suppliers. While on my way to the latter I passed through five-corners and the old downtown core, right past the Paramount, which was one of those old-fashioned single screen theaters with a balcony. It had obviously been closed for quite some time, as the sign that normally proclaimed that week’s showing said ‘Thank You Chilliwack For 61 Years’. My mind’s eye immediately went back to 1975, when I stood with friends in a long line along the street in front of that very movie theater. At the time, it was the center of the local universe, as each of us was hoping to get in to see the first screening of JAWS. From the steady flow of cars cruising by while we were waiting for our tickets, to the omnipresent scent of heavily buttered popcorn in the lobby, to the first screams of unmitigated terror reverberating from the balcony (resulting in more than a few people avoiding swimming in Cultus Lake for a while) – by the time we had left the theater that night, each and every one of us had shared a shark moment. Then I started wondering how long it had been since I had experienced one of those ‘shared moments’, like when Neil Armstrong took that first step on the moon in July of 1969 or Paul Henderson scored the winning goal at the last possible second during the ’72 Summit Series with Russia. It seems that that today’s technologies – the cell phone, the I-Pad and the personal computer – while allowing us to stay ‘connected’, also keep us looking in many different directions. I see this a lot at the garden centre where I work, people are so busy on their cell phones, that they hardly seem to notice the beautiful plants right in front of them. It’s almost like the nursery just serves as a staged backdrop to their texts, tweets or random phone conversations. The worst are those people with Bluetooth devices, wandering around talking to themselves and gesturing wildly to nonexistent crowds. When you approach them thinking that they might need some help with plants, they usually give you a dirty look, point to the thing in their ear and walk away with a look of indignation. The other thing I’ve noticed is that when we do have a ‘shared experience’, an event so big that it crosses all media lines – it almost always surrounds something very tragic; like 9-11, the tsunami disaster in Thailand and the nuclear meltdown in Japan. So we only get to share the sad things and not the joys of life. Personally, I’m looking forward to the day when we all put the cell phones down, look each other straight in the eye and start experiencing real life in real time.