Eat­ing and shop­ping of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties for con­nect­ing

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Good Sea­sons

Through­out the United States, Thanks­giv­ing and the happy cel­e­bra­tions of De­cem­ber mark the ar­rival of the Hol­i­day Sea­son; here on Florida’s Gulf Coast the ar­rival of win­ter res­i­dents and tourists marks the be­gin­ning of THE Sea­son. The heart­warm­ing in­spi­ra­tion that en­er­gizes and makes both sea­sons good is re­union— es­pe­cially around the ta­ble and in the lo­cal shops.

Ob­vi­ously, if hu­man be­ings are to sur­vive, they need to eat and shop all year long; but dur­ing th­ese spe­cial months such ac­tiv­i­ties are trea­sured as op­por­tu­ni­ties for per­sonal en­coun­ters.

In re­gard to eat­ing, din­ing be­comes more than the mere con­sump­tion of food. It fas­ci­nates me that as we age our eyes re­main the same size as they were at birth, while our nose and ears con­tinue to grow. The nose con­tains our ol­fac­tory nerves— scent is the source of taste. The ears are the means by which we hear the words of oth­ers—con­ver­sa­tion is the en­abler of re­la­tion­ships. We are built to get bet­ter at tast­ing and hear­ing.

Set­ting aside time to eat to­gether in cel­e­bra­tion (whether in the house or out) pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity to ap­pre­ci­ate food and strengthen friend­ships. The word com­pan­ion comes from the old Latin words: com (with) and pa­nis (bread). Break­ing bread to­gether is a much-needed an­ti­dote for the ob­ses­sive time most Amer­i­cans spend on social media (more than two hours a day, on av­er­age). This repet­i­tive, ad­dic­tive fo­cus on elec­tronic de­vices (es­pe­cially com­put­ers and mo­bile phones) has been shown to be a poor sub­sti­tute for face-to-face di­a­logue, side-by-side ac­tiv­ity and the cul­ti­va­tion of mu­tual un­der­stand­ing. Even thought­ful teenagers have quipped, “Peo­ple are pris­on­ers of their phones— that’s why they’re called cell­phones.”

As far as shop­ping, the spirit of our lo­cal sea­son re­veals a sim­i­lar im­pulse to bless the in­ter­per­sonal ties that bind. If con­vivi­al­ity en­riches din­ing, so does it en­hance shop­ping. Some­one coined a phrase that could be called one of Mur­phy’s lesser-known laws: “If the shoe fits, get an­other one just like it! This quest for the “other shoe” leads shop­pers to do three won­der­ful things: (l) Set out to find gifts for oth­ers; (2) Slow down to en­joy the “hunt­ing;” and (3) Take time to en­gage joy­fully with re­tail­ers and fel­low shop­pers. Num­bers 2 and 3 are a much-needed an­ti­dote for the con­ta­gious epi­demic of on­line shop­ping—which con­ve­niently of­fers almost un­lim­ited choices, yet very lim­ited per­son-to-per­son con­tact.

Con­sider the in­ter­net com­pany that cap­tures almost half of on­line shop­ping searches and nearly $1 of ev­ery $2 that Amer­i­cans spend on­line: “Ama­zon is try­ing to make shop­ping there the de­fault and change peo­ple’s re­flexes so that when [they] think of laun­dry de­ter­gent, they don’t think of the gro­cery store, they think of Ama­zon,” writes Olivia LaVec­chia, co-au­thor of “Ama­zon’s Stran­gle­hold,” a re­port re­leased last year by the In­sti­tute for Lo­cal Self-Re­liance.

This makes me think of all the folks I wouldn’t see or talk to at the store if I did my shop­ping on­line.

We live in a high-tech, low-touch cul­ture. We need to in­vest less in sav­ing time and more in sa­vor­ing it—both in and out of sea­son. Ran Niehoff has been din­ing and shop­ping on the Gulf Coast since 1991.

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