Lately I’ve become increasingly annoyed by what I call “fake community.” I’ll try to explain.
Yesterday I marked another year of life on the planet. I received email birthday wishes from my dentist, a local seafood restaurant, and Bob, the guy who sold me a car two and a half years ago.
Now, my dentist is a very nice man, who I see every six months for about ten minutes—eight of which I have my mouth gaping wide open, which is hardly conducive to conversation. I went with a friend to the seafood restaurant about a year ago, and it will probably be another year before I can afford to go again.
Bob followed up his email message with a phone call, letting me know that he’s just sitting around his dealership waiting for me to buy another car. What he doesn’t seem to grasp (though I’ve told him more than once) is that my last car lasted thirteen years and 265,372 miles—and I’m expecting at least as much from this one.
What bothers me the most is the feigned familiarity that infuses these messages, which are primarily intended to drum up business. And it appears in the other aspect of fake community that has mushroomed recently: The Survey. My Inbox is deluged with emails bearing the subject line “Tell Us How We Did!”
The guy who changed the oil in my car, the website that booked my latest plane flight, the motel where I spent a night with my sisters on a recent trip all want me to “take just a few minutes” to tell them how they’re doing. If I took just a few minutes to reply to every one of these appeals, I’d spend more time on survey questions than on the novel I’m trying to write.
Last week I dashed out to buy flea-prevention medication for my dogs. Before I arrived back home, the veterinarian’s office had already sent out an email wanting to know “how we did.” Really? I gave them some money. They handed me a box of pills. It was stellar in every way.
Fortunately, yesterday I also received birthday cards and email greetings from friends across the country, phone calls from my sisters and a nephew, and a picture specially drawn by my great-niece. A potluck cookout at the farm where I live brought out twenty friends, who showered me with blessings and love-infused gifts that indicate that they know me and what I like: chocolate, a journal, a poem written in my honor, a gift certificate to a new restaurant, handmade earrings, more chocolate.
Real familiarity requires an investment of time and spirit and care. And real community happens only when we commit ourselves to this level of familiarity with one another over the long haul. Bob the Car Salesman may never get it, but I feel blessed to be surrounded by kindred souls who do.