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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 4/29/20



Dear Friends,

As we are hunkered down in quarantine, we find ourselves distanced from the rest of the world. At the same time, with the feeling common struggle and purpose, it feels we are more connected to the rest of the world than we have been.

While the physical separation from family and friends has generated the most print and the most angst, it is the random connections I’ve been thinking about. In the course of an ordinary day, we participate in myriad small encounters with people we don’t know. In some circumstances we just exchange a smile or a “thank you,” and move along. But every once in a while there is an interaction of shared humanity. Human beings are social beings and, notwithstanding the technologies around us to interact with people we know, I worry that we miss the more random and casual connections, and the lack of these connections may even affect our moods.

 

CONNECTIONS WITH STRANGERS

Other than our friends, family, and business associates (with whom we can communicate by phone or video chat), our circle of acquaintances has been frozen for the past six weeks. We aren’t chatting with the barista or waitperson, the person in the street or the elevator, the person we meet at a party or a club. We’re not complimenting someone on their outfit and sharing the frustration of waiting in a doctor’s office. We all crave connection—not only with people we know, but with those we don’t.

There is an idea that began before the great quarantine that is finding increased traction, as people sit in their homes, separated from our fellow human beings. It’s called “QuarantineChat” (accessed through an app called Dialup), which randomly connects perfect strangers for conversation. It allows the user to enter their name and phone number and be connected at a prearranged time to someone else, somewhere else in the world. Phone numbers are anonymous and messages are encrypted. The app begins the conversation with a prompt, such as “what did you do right after breakfast.”

This app, whether one uses it or not (I haven’t yet decided) suggests that what we lack is sensory input—interpersonal contact and communication—with other people about things unfamiliar. Think about it—even when chatting with a friend, the conversation often leads to hearing stories about their experiences with people whom you don’t know (but with whom they recently interacted). But we aren’t having these chance encounters and, so, can’t share them with others.

Even in ordinary times, the random or transactional interactions with others often are temporary and lacking in depth. What this app offers is perhaps the opportunity to make a chance encounter more meaningful. It is the opportunity to speak with people from different places, different walks of life, and with different problems, aspirations, and ideas—as people. Imagine randomly meeting someone across the globe or in rural Tennessee and hear what they have to say, without the intermediation of pundits or politicians.

One of my resolutions for when this is over is to reach out more to chat with strangers (even more than I do already when I embarrass my family members). But until I’m freed from this isolation, I think I’m going to make that call to meet someone new.

[A detailed article on this is “There’s an App for That,” in the “Talk of the Town” section of the March 30 New Yorker.]

 

DELANCEY PLACE

As a great daily addition to your daily inbox, I suggest Delancey Place. It’s a daily curated excerpt from a nonfiction book that’s a quick read. Sometimes it gets me thinking about a topic or person I previously hadn’t considered and sometimes I will follow up and get a book I otherwise never would have thought to read. https://delanceyplace.com/. Yes, I know, I suggested this a month ago, but it’s that good.

 

MUSIC

David Rochkind is a big fan of Tedeschi Trucks (a husband/wife led band). He suggested I listen to their “NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert.” Somehow, the close quarters of these “tiny” concerts seem particularly appropriate for the times in which we are living. I pass on this great advice—well worth a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRipadkd6wk.

 

MORE MUSEUMS ONLINE

National Gallery of Art

Visit the Gallery virtually through video tours of current exhibitions, in-depth looks at highlights of the collection, online learning opportunities, audio and video recordings of lectures by artists and curators and more.

Saint Louis Art Museum

Visit the museum’s homepage, which has been updated to include all the many ways you can interact with the collection and exhibitions while the museum remains closed.

Seattle Art Museum

Explore Stay Home with SAM for videos, collection highlights and more.

Whitney Museum of American Art

Listen to tours of Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist and Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925–1945 and explore ArtPort, an online gallery space for commissions of net art and new media art.

 

ART AT HOME

I continue to love the creativity and humor of people “recreating art” in their homes. You may recall the Getty issued this challenge and others around the world apparently are joining in. The rule is to use only objects around the house. In addition to the great scene of ancient Rome above, here are a couple of new ones—takes on Mondrian and Vermeer:





 

AN APOLOGY AND A CLARIFICATION

A couple of people feel I am focusing on the failures of the administration throughout this crisis and that I should be “looking forward, not backward.” If I have allowed partisanship to taint my musings, I am sorry.

Here is why focusing on the past informs our behaviors in the future. We teach our children to learn from their mistakes. We ask them first to acknowledge their mistakes and then seek ways not to repeat them. Alcoholics Anonymous asks that, first, the addict must acknowledge their addiction. In order to move forward, one must first conduct some introspection and analysis.

In this case, we have yet to hear our leadership utter the words, “we might have been wrong” or “we made a mistake” or “we got this wrong the first time, but we’ll get it right this time.” It seems clear to me that whatever methodologies employed before need to be abandoned and new ways of thinking (and accepting responsibility) need to emerge. To be clear, I am rooting for the home team. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than for the President to finally earn the “perfect 10” he has repeatedly awarded himself.

Have a great day,

Glenn

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