I love my neighborhood in the Bronx. It’s diverse with many immigrants and filled with busy, bustling stores. Right around the corner, I have a shoe repair, a hardware store, a famous Albanian “Burek” restaurant, several magical “everything” stores that somehow sell, everything. For groceries, there’s a Korean vegetable market, a Key Food, and a health food store, and a little walk away, an old-fashioned, 3rd generation Italian butcher. There are a laundromat and dry cleaner on every block, each with its own personality.
Yet I have recently discovered the convenience of ordering groceries and getting laundry fulfilled online and am shocked and a bit appalled by how much I like it. With delivery.com, our laundry is picked up and delivered at a time we choose, washed and folded. On Instacart, our groceries are delivered to our door from a more trendy supermarket that is a ways away. The apps and delivery save time.
And yet– I like to be around people. Even if they’re crabby, or distracted, even if we don’t speak the same language or even if the interaction seems to be inconsequential– handing them money, moving aside my shopping cart so they can go through, giving directions through gestures.
I like interacting with the lady at Charmar Pharmacy who smiles as if it’s a privilege when I buy a few simple things. I like it when Mike the butcher says, “Yeah, yeah, I know you like the pieces with more fat.” I like speaking Spanish at the laundromat. At the dry cleaners, I like speaking slower, clearer English with the woman who is trying to master it.
I like saying hi to Mr. D, the parent of one of my former students, who works at the health food store. I liked learning that his wife just got her first job in the U.S. since they came from Pakistan. She’s working as a crossing guard and enjoys the children. Mr. D’s son is studying computers in college, but Mr. D still thinks he plays too many video games.
All of these interactions seem inconsequential yet I find them touching. Invigorating. I feel alive as I walk through my busy neighborhood.
So when I trade interactions for convenience, I wonder if I’m missing something.
I heard an amazing TED talk: The Key to Living Longer May Be Your Social Life. The speaker, Susan Pinker, talks about the unusually long lifespan of people in the Italian island of Sardinia. After years of study, it appears that the biggest common factor in their longevity is their almost constant social interactions. It’s not that the interactions are always positive or friendly; it’s that as humans, we thrive on company.
And yet– yes, it is so convenient for me to get on an app and order things that are delivered. No interaction with people except for the person who delivers the goods.
So I’ve found that I am striking a balance: when things get busy and ordering will make an evening less stressful, I order. But whenever I can, I stop by Mike the butcher, or pick up some items and see Mr. D. I know that even if the interactions seem unimportant, we’re “fed” by them in ways we don’t even know.