Have we lost our ability to socialise?

Some of you won’t believe it, but we are in the process of moving house again. Talk about ‘ants in the pants’, but in the immortal words of Harold Wilson; ‘events dear boy!’.

The upside of ‘events’ is that new neighbours mean new friends – and we have made and kept friends for neighbours from everywhere we have decamped. This being said, moving house is a traumatic experience – and the older one gets, the harder it is; especially when the last one was meant to be the penultimate perch… the one before the graveyard! Anyway, here we are…

Every time I stir up my ‘belongings’, I resurrect old newspapers and that slows down the packing, as I leaf through accounts of times past and an ever-changing world. Spreading out old ‘Westmeath Examiners’ from the 1970s and ‘80s, I was forcibly struck by how much entertainment was available, seven nights a week, back in the day. The local papers contained page after page of advertisements for dinner-dances, hotel do’s, socials, American tea-parties, and acres of newsprint devoted to music and dancing in pubs and lounges.

We had 3x15s card plays, whist drives and big bridge outings. Then there was squash, tennis, badminton, gymkhanas and sports days. Local variety groups took to the stage and lads and lassies you thought you knew on the street turned into stars after a lick of greasepaint. Numerous table quizzes were on offer; and if a meeting was called on some issue or other, the hall would be full.

Not alone all of the above, but before and after Mass or Church was in itself a significant social gathering. The women chatted in small groups admiring each other’s ‘style’ and the new ‘perm’. (I never seen anything to suit you so well, Nancy!’) The men rested their backs against the wall; discussing cattle prices, politics and hurling… and it can be revealed now that the lads were greater gossipers than the women!

I asked myself, and now I’m asking you; what has happened to us? It looks to me like we have lost our ability to socialise. That is not good for society: people need people and it is an essential ingredient of our existence that we share time and activity with our fellow humans.

It’s gone, I tell you. We are supposedly the land of ‘the hundred thousand welcomes’ and great conversation, but the over-use of the word craic helps to cover a lot of cracks. Ok, so we bus the American tourists to Bunratty Castle, The Burlington or Whelan’s: most of them go home happy, I suppose – acclaiming how friendly the Irish are. But they don’t see an Ireland like it used to be – in fact, they see little of the real Ireland at all. They won’t see us unless they do house calls – because we have given up going out. When we do go out now, it is only with people we like; and we go out of our way to only meet people that we want to meet.

The night clubs more or less came after my day and they too have had their day. Where once we had a plethora of social clubs and associations, now friends meet at home in their ‘home bar’ – by invitation only. Much is lost by only having your friends present at all social meets. In the pub of yesterday, every type of individual had a role in creating the unique Irish pub atmosphere. The ‘bollox’ that ‘nobody could stand’ energised the crowd into what was often very real craic.

A friend told me last night of going back to his home town last week. He looked forward to renewing acquaintances with some of his old drinking buddies. The first pub he went back to was closed; the second of his one-time regular haunts was closed. The third one he tried was open… there were two customers inside.

The ‘pub game’ is finished. A handful will exist or survive – the rest are heading the way of the ‘American tea-party’. A survey I read somewhere says that most people now spend more time playing with their cats or dogs, than going out and trying to make friends. Never in the history of humankind have people been spending so much time on their own.

All the signs are that lack of socialising is having a profoundly negative effect on happiness levels. Television, computers, video games and smart phones are insulating people from the person next to them. Again, people, especially the young, only want to talk to the person they have already established a relationship with.

So folks, let us start here and now to make our own little bit of difference and bring back the social interaction. Start off by simply just speaking to the person nearest to you. You may be surprised that the person you considered aloof is actually affable and friendly – and that could be the start of a new friendship. A few new friends can be turned into a social gathering…

Don’t Forget

The best antique is an old friend.