The Flow of Life

The topic of Flow of Life started in my head as a thesis idea for my Urban Design Theory paper, but I realized how personally relevant it is, and I also missed writing on this blog. So here: BLOG POST!

I was writing a paper for Film Theory class about the importance of setting in film, and Arnheim writes about the “flow of life” that the street represents in film. Cinema is when film seems to capture humanity. Streets are a rich resource for cinema, as you’ll notice in many films including It’s a Wonderful Life and Cleo from 5 to 7.  It is the character’s public space, a stage for interaction with the rest of the world, just as the home is the stage for interaction with the nuclear family.

I remember at certain points in my childhood, on beautiful Saturday afternoons, when it felt like I was cut off from the rest of the world, like the town was empty because everyone was at the football game (kind of like U of M yesterday). There was plenty to do at my house, I’m certain. But nothing could be satisfying, because I felt isolated. My nuclear world wasn’t enough; I was needing mental stimulation. I remember wishing to be where everyone was.

This is a standard feeling of isolation. I still get it often. It feels like staying home alone on a Friday night, which is never desirable unless you’d had a long and stressful week and you need a moment’s peace. The film Pulse kind of captures this feeling. It’s a horror movie where pretty much everyone starts dying. (From seeing a ghost I think. It was J-horror.)

I’m starting to think we built a nation that structurally does not support a happy life. Extreme. But to think streets used to be a source of stimulation, social gathering, chance meetings, etc. when they are now a source of boredom-tears from being stuck in traffic jams, or a source of road rage towards other drivers who didn’t use a turn signal. We go to work (which has varying degrees of awfulness for everyone), then we drive home (which we have control over, and we decorate to our liking, and we maintain our closest relationships). Work and Family. Running into friends is not probable, and must be planned.

For me, this is a comforting pattern most of the time, as I have social anxiety. Boy, is it easier to drive, to stay home, to stay away from the downtown and the crowds of pedestrians.  To have control over who I see and when. But I pay for it in these feelings of isolation, in my lack of face-time with friends. I am not afraid to call new people to share a cup of coffee. I am afraid of having that actual cup of coffee with the new friend. It’s a new relationship and those have unknown paths. They may not work out. They are unpredictable. Just like the street. I want to burrow beneath my covers when I’m feeling anxious about this.

Facebook has become a complete replacement for the street as a source of the flow of life. Slowly, as we know, Facebook morphed from a stalker-ish profile collection for college students to a constantly-running feed of updates, photos, and links from people you know (and from businesses, musical artists, nonprofits, political figures, etc.). When we need stimulation, to catch up with friends, to feel a little less disconnected from the world, to talk about something from the news, we go to Facebook.  We can control this flow of life and which aspects of it we want to subscribe to. We can do it in our pajamas and type things we’d never say and stay safe. You can’t get hit by a car in your house. Usually.

I know this argument gets made, in some form, almost daily. That Facebook can’t replace face-to-face interaction and blah blah blah. It’s bigger than that. Facebook is a symptom of the major problem. That we don’t know how to be communities anymore, and that we have no daily connection to each other. That we literally don’t have the physical structure for this. That we need each other, collectively, publicly, anonymously; we need that place where anyone can show up, anything can happen, a flow of possibilities, opportunities to celebrate life quietly (or loudly) as a species.  We were robbed of this, and we should claim it back.