98104: Connection

"...breadth of connection seems to happen more naturally but depth of connection is something we need to consciously and constantly build. What are some ways you do this in your life?"

Pioneer Square, February 2014: Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl

I’m going to try to write one major piece each month on Pioneer Square on a major theme. As I was considering the neighborhood the last few days the theme of Connection came up.

We blame social media impact on our face to face interaction and the interuption and multi-task culture we live in  for our lack of connection these days. And yet hastags such as #SB48, #Superbowl, #Pioneersquare, #Seattle and #howseattleriots brought many people together last night. Building real connection happens uniquely for each person.

Winston Churchill argued that we shape our buildings which then they shape us. The same is true of our digital technologies. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram played a major role in the ability to connect and share local events as they unfolded. But what of our neighborhoods? How does Pioneer Square shape those who live in it?

We pay for the ease and frequency of our communication with the depth of our relationships. The irony, of course, is that our increasingly vanishing connection to each other is driven by our deep need to connect. It is no accident that we are all collectively spending over 230 thousand years worth of time on social media in a single month.

Technology has become the architect of our intimacies. Over the past 15 years, Sherry Turkle (author of Alone Together) studied technologies of mobile communication. She found that our little devices, those little devices in our pockets, are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are. Some of the things we do now with our devices are things that, only a few years ago, we would have found odd or disturbing, but they’ve quickly come to seem familiar, just how we do things. For example, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death was communicated via a tweet, before his three young children, with whom he was scheduled to spend the day, and his longtime partner, Mimi O’Donnell were notified.

There’s a great summary in Salon about how ethics is changing for journalists:

In its ethics code, the Society of Professional Journalists has an entire section on “minimizing harm,” guided by the principle that “ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.” The section cautions reporters to show compassion and be sensitive when investigating a tragedy. It urges them to “show good taste” and “avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.” Increasingly, “minimizing harm” is becoming a quaint concern, a nostalgic vestige of a bygone era in journalism. Now, breaking news is breaking us. We’re cycling through tragedies at lightning speed and without affording ourselves the adequate time to reflect and to grieve. The pursuit of journalistic expediency is eroding our empathy, and readers are left the worse for it.

All this makes me wonder about the burst of emotion Seattle felt in the streets last night.

Community support for the team has been building for months. It makes sense that a win would be like popping a cork. The unleashing of emotion started out friendly, with just a few people in the streets. We went out and joined the crowd for a bit. One side of our street was dedicated to pedistrians, the other had cars attempting to go home, all beeping horns in support of Seattle. Within an hour both sides of the street were literally flooded. People were climbing the historic pergola, hanging from lamposts, and carrying street signs away–all under the watch of the Seattle Police Department. They didn’t even remove people from the street lights. After some time, the police taped off the pergola and stood underneath it which (eventually) proved effective.

When I think of the hassles of the neighborhood and why I’m not more involved, I think of the time it takes away from other things I want or need to get done. “Conversating” takes place in real time and you can’t control what you’re going to say. Texting, email, posting, all of these things let us present the self as we want to be. We get to edit, and that means we get to delete, and that means we get to retouch, the face, the voice, the flesh, the body — not too little, not too much, just right.

These are photos of folks being unedited. 🙂

pool of people pergola lights
Photo from Twitter: @GNCordova Photo from Instagram: luke_rain Photo from Twitter: @PSBJphoto

What is interesting to me is the potential for connection given all these social tools.  All these apps make it very easy to just hop from introduction to introdction at the expense of building depth of connection. Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding.

What does that mean when we consider our own back yard? While I can’t wrap my head around folks whom are scared to cross the bridge, how do help educate people who are afraid of vice districts? How do we reach out more to the homeless? What impact does local shopping have on globalization? How can we connect and partner more effectively with our government (with the same ease we have in navigating Nordstrom’s customer service department)?

We can only clean up so much with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.

Stay tuned for local conversations…

Catch Me On The Corner,

UPDATE:  2/4/2014

Amanda Gallagher Quinn started a GoFundMe project:  #HowSeattleRiots Fixing the Pergola most of the donations were $12. Sometimes crowds are great.


…Only in Seattle. #socialmedia #editsourbehavior


  1. This really struck me: “We pay for the ease and frequency of our communication with the depth of our relationships.” As I thought about this I realized that this is true in many ways for me, but thankfully, some relationships have deepened because of the myriad of communication vehicles we have available to us. The other thing that struck me was when you talked about social media allowing us to create ourselves (a poor paraphrase forgive me I am typing on my phone) and perhaps to the detriment of our ability to relate face to face. Just the other evening, our neighbor stopped by to drop off a piece of mail. It was 8:30 at night, and I was already in the bedroom reading. When the doorbell rang my first reaction was annoyance that some salesperson was coming by that late. When I saw it was Sharon, the annoyance disappeared, but then I immediately thought something must be wrong. We visited briefly at the door and then I invited her in – it’s the first time she has been in our house for more than a couple of minutes in years. We had a really nice visit, but at one point I remember thinking I’m not really sure how to do this, just talk, with no planning, no editing, no crafting… It was a nice connection, a good connection, facilitated by conversating, and probably one much less possible over social media. My final thought, since you asked, is about Pioneer Square. I have no love for Pioneer Square, and when you talked about it in context of your dissertation I frankly wondered why. I’m starting to understand a little more and look forward to learning to love it and connect with it through your words and work.

  2. I wish I had PS around to love it some more. Some of my best times in Seattle were spent there. I like the story about your spontaneous vist with your neighbor.

  3. This is interesting Laura…thanks for posting. First, I loved the note about your neighbor. That has happened to me to, and I’ve had the same experience. Second, I would *love* to know more about your statement: ” I have no love for Pioneer Square, and when you talked about it in context of your dissertation I frankly wondered why.” In particular, what comes to mind when you think of that part of town? Sissy, you too.

  4. Christine I don’t hate Pioneer Square, I just don’t think fondly of it like I do some of the other places around the city, I think because 1) there isn’t anything down there that compels me to go there so it’s been a long time since I’ve done anything but drive through and 2) the last time I was near there by myself I was hassled and creeped out by some ruffians. It’s probably not true, but as I was asking myself why, I discovered that in my head I think of it as a dirty unsafe place. That’s so strange, because when I worked downtown many years ago I roamed freely on foot all over the city, including Pioneer Square. Like I said, I’m open to learning to love it 🙂

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