News & Commentary Has social media influenced human interaction – even at the local library? By Rosemary Sorensen | November 10, 2017 | In the library, at the reserve shelves, I found myself standing next to a child of about six, as he went through the books one by one. When he got to the end of the shelf, he hadn’t found a book reserved in his family name, so he started again. Patience, thy name is Rosemary: so I waited for the kid to sort through once more, but thought it might be worthwhile to register that I was there, standing next to him. If you can’t feel part of a community and society in a library, where can you? I was careful not to get too close, as I’m mindful of a debate in this particular community about how people think it’s fine to pat children in the street, and they really ought not, according to those parents who are teaching their offspring about their rights. I used to smile at children whose meandering dashes down the footpath caused me to swerve or stop or otherwise avoid collision, but I’ve cut that out, in case it offends. In the library, waiting for my turn at the reserve shelf, I lapsed. “Straightening up the shelf, are you?” I said, quietly, as the boy began his third fingering of the lineup of books. No answer. Indeed, not even a glance in my direction. What puzzles me is when it seems undesirable to exercise one of human beings’ miraculous abilities, which is that of communicating. Call me recalcitrant: “Oh, you can’t talk eh?” I said, quietly and gently, standing there right next to this small boy; then (call me impatient), “No words? Don’t know how to speak?” I added with a materteral chuckle. (It’s the much less-used equivalent of “avuncular” apparently.) Success! The child finally turned to stare at me reproachfully, and blurted, “Yes, I can!” To which I replied, “Very good.” His father arrived about then, and, what do you know! Behaved pretty much the same as the kid, sort of occupying the space in front of the shelf without so much as a glance right or left, and certainly no acknowledgement that anyone else was in the vicinity waiting to get access. Of course this all hardly matters, seems inconsequential, in a world where the baiting-game of personal abuse has become part of the daily news cycle. However, what if it’s connected? We are told that people will say things on social media they’d never say to someone’s face, so if we aren’t “facing” people in everyday interactions, that adds to the impression there’s a wall between what we say and who we say it about. There’s also less time now to listen. Opinions, once formed, are solid blocks to be hurled out on the internet and “debate” programs. “Tell us what you think” the poor old ABC implores, merrily supporting WB Yeats’ dreadful conclusion that “The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Everyone has the right to go about their business unimpeded by meddlesome others, so the child and his father in the library have every right to stand as long as they like talking about their own needs in front of a shelf of books where they expected to find what they wanted. What puzzles me is when it seems undesirable to exercise one of human beings’ miraculous abilities, which is that of communicating. So much is at stake when you say something to someone else, and doing so is probably not wise when you don’t really need to speak at all. But I cling to the notion that it’s worthwhile to try, as politeness, kindness, good humour and tolerance are all part of what’s at stake, and worth exercising. Or, I suppose, we could just borrow a book and hope we get all that in reading. SUPPORT ARTS JOURNALISM AND WIN THE CHANCE TO SPEND TWO LUXURIOUS NIGHTS AT DAVID WALSH’S MONA IN HOBART. DETAILS HERE Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Rosemary Sorensen Rosemary Sorensen is director of Bendigo Writers Festival.