I was talking with some friends last night who have recently moved house. Their old pad was basically one room in a long block with a shared verandah, and now they have a whole flat at the top of an apartment block. I thought it was interesting that they both talked about missing the old room, even though it was a tiny living space by normal Australian standards. What they miss is the low-level interaction with people throughout the day. The old set up allowed for brief and casual conversation and interaction, and the ability to easily control the level of engagement with their neighbours. Living in a more conventional apartment setting means that the constant low-level interaction has changed. Now, an encounter with other people (who are fellow Bible College students) also comes with a whole bunch of ‘intention-to-relate’ baggage. It raises the stakes in the encounter.
I wonder if this hasn’t been happening wholesale throughout our society. Smaller communities tend to create more of that low-level interaction: we see the same people doing their thing, while we’re doing ours, no significant exchange involved. There is very little ‘intention-to-relate’, the reason for our encounter might be merely physical proximity, common labour, satisfying the same need/desire. And yet, just because these are low-level interactions doesn’t mean they don’t contribute to an ongoing and developing sense of relatedness.
Every time a person nods at you in the street and says ‘hello’, they are affirming that you exist as ‘you-in-particular’. This is an acknowledgement that artifactual objects cannot provide. A non-personal object can, at very best, only affirm that you exist in general. Which is probably why I find it so disconcerting to try and walk through an automatic door and to have it not open for me. Architects should be careful with those things, they can provoke generalised existential angst. “Am I still here?”
It strikes me that personal relationships are the satellites by which we triangulate our identity – along the lines of a GPS system. When the system is working well, we gain a sense of who we are from the people around us, and that is a comforting and joyous thing.
It can give you the strength to overcome being invisible to a door.