Monday, August 01, 2005

Air Conditioning

One of the books I am reading blames all kinds of technology for reducing the casual interaction present in a healthy, physical community. Cars, telephones, television, computers. They all allow us to physically distance ourselves from each other while still enabling us to communicate, but in a much more limited fashion. But he fails to recognized the technology that has done the most the drive people out of the common physical space and into their own private space: air conditioning.

Before air conditioning, people would venture out onto their porches to escape the heat and lack of air flow inside their homes. While there, they would see their neighbors doing the same thing. If you lived close enough to each other, you could sit on your respective porches and carry on a conversation. If not, you could at least see that your neighbors were taking a break from more productive matters and venture over for a chat. Isolating yourself in your house or in a single room within your house would be much less comfortable than sitting out on the porch where there was much more air flow, even if you were simply sitting still while watching television.

The most social dorm I lived in in college was an un-air-conditioned dorm. People would hang out in the hall to escape the claustrophobia of their own rooms. To cool off, we had to venture to public spaces like the dining hall or Wal-Mart. At the very least, “it’s too hot outside” was not an excuse to stay in.

Now, AC is easy to overlook as a deterrent to social interaction because, for one, it is not an inherently social technology. It does not transfer information or people from place to place. Also, AC has many health benefits (such as preventing heat stroke and death) that people would not give up simply because having the AC on when it’s 85 outside discourages them from going out on an otherwise nice day. The obvious immediate benefits far outweigh the indirect social detriment. But I have to wonder: if the AC in my building broke down, would I see more people out on their patios or down at the pool? As it is, people only seem to come out to see fireworks or find out which level music is being blasted from (right above me, but thankfully only on the weekends). Or maybe the building would simply be empty until an hour after sunset when the rooms would hopefully be cool enough to occupy. If the AC ever did break, I think I’d at least eat out a lot more. Cooking would just add to the heat.


Blogger Jody said...

And then the Internet turned the whole social interaction equation upside down.

8/01/2005 11:59 PM  

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