We often hear social scientists – professional and amateur – suggest that today’s society of computer-addicted, gaming, texting, plugged-in citizens is more isolated and less social than our less technological and presumably more conversational predecessors. We hear about the lost art of conversation, and bemoan new skills deficits in interpersonal communication. Some of us have even worried about how this new inward focus might affect jury dynamics, where verbal communication is at the heart of effective deliberations. I have been reassured, though, time and time again, as I watched mock jurors chat with each other over the course of the mock trial day, bonding over the discovery of common interests and life experiences or a critique of the sandwiches we provide to them for lunch. At jury selection for real trials, we see potential jurors engage in the same sort of chatter. We are reminded that technology notwithstanding, humans are still fundamentally social beings.
In fact, I learned recently that technology can be a wonderful vehicle for social bonding. I just joined the legions of people worldwide who spend inordinate amounts of time hurling suicidal birds at little green helmet-wearing pigs, and watching them all explode. I inherited my daughter’s NOOK, and discovered that playing Angry Birds makes for a vastly improved subway commute. I also discovered that it is remarkably effective at breaking down normal social barriers.
In my first week of teaching myself how to play (who knew there were no instructions in the NOOK version?), I couldn’t figure out how just a few birds could possibly kill all those pigs. In one subway trip, I played the same level at least ten times with the same disastrous results. Lost in my Angry Birds world, I was startled when the young woman next to me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “If you tap the screen, the yellow bird will speed up and the gray bird will turn into three birds.” She then illustrated the transformational powers of each of the birds and we had a lovely discussion about the addictive nature of the game and the fact that she had saved me from the humiliation of confessing to my teen daughter that I could not get past Level 1-3.
A few weeks later, again on the subway, I was playing another level that had thwarted me for several days. After many tries that resulted in killing only half the pigs, I finally managed to hit them all…or so I thought, until one little green pig rolled maddeningly away to safety. This time, I was surprised to hear the man next to me voice the thought echoing in my head: “Oh! Almost!” And again, a delightful discussion ensued about the challenges of that particular level, the generally addictive nature of the game, and the unsettling discovery that it’s fun to watch little cartoon animals explode.
Lessons learned? Generalizing quite broadly from a sample of two experiences, the fine art of bonding with strangers is alive and well, and will withstand the advances of technology. People who know little about each other can still come together for a common cause, be it jury deliberations or finding a way to get at those stupid little pigs. The jury whose social cohesion you worried about may find quirky ways to connect with each other, ways that can ease the tension when deliberations get rough. Oh, and a final lesson: If you’re stuck on a level of Angry Birds, ride the subway. Someone will connect with you.