Friday, June 11, 2010

Chicago Celebrates the Blackhawks...and Why It Reminded Me of Facebook

The crowds in the streets of Chicago today were an amusing and awesome sight...

An estimated TWO MILLION people turned out for the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup Victory Parade today in downtown Chicago.  From the televised clips I saw afterward, it was a scene worthy of the massive, Guinness-Book record crowd assembled by Richard Attenborough for the movie"Gandhi"....(and he only managed about 400,000 paid extras!)

Lee DeWyze's "American Idol" win was merely Mt. Prospect's little dry-run for this huge outpouring and celebration.  Chances are, the number of actual hockey fans was just a tiny percentage of the massive total . The United Center, home of the Blackhawks, seats just 19,717 (not including standing room) for hockey.The highest attendance at a Blackhawks game in 2010 was 22,428 vs. Detroit.  That's about half the number for a full house at the Cubs' Wrigley Field.

It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the event (I stayed home but checked for frequent updates on the radio and TV).  Dick's Sporting Goods in Schaumburg had tables filled with Championship T-shirts and other Hawks gear, and lines of people to scoop up the merchandise.  You could see red-and-black everywhere you looked, even in our remote little 'burb.  And the crowds at the eateries in Arlington Heights were enormous, even for a Friday night.

Underneath the excitement, I was actually rather touched by the spectacle, for reasons that have nothing to do with the Hawks, or their first championship since 1961, or Chicago pride.  The celebration, after all, was way out of proportion to the achievement (basically, "our" team won a lot of hockey games).  And what was achieved honestly affected the lives of very few (except perhaps the businesses who will capitalize on this win, or some lucky gamblers who cleaned up.)

Sure, it is easy to criticize people for jumping on a bandwagon and getting a piece of undeserved glory.  But somehow this felt much different...more poignant, I think.

What I saw were millions of people who are hungry for real, in-person human contact, an excuse to cross the barrier of private space and be good to fellow strangers on the street, and to have those average strangers be exuberantly friendly to them in return.

I have read a few articles lately about the Facebook phenomenon, and a backlash of sorts in which people are deleting their accounts.  The reasons people are quitting Facebook (30,000 people departed on May 31st, or "quit Facebook day") are varied, but concerns about security and privacy are not the main reasons.  It appears that for many, Facebook has left them feeling alienated.  Some have amassed a huge number of "friends" only to realize they barely knew most of them.  Because of the constant updates, there develops a compulsive need for checking in regularly, and many members become addicted to what was becoming an empty exercise, rather than an intimate and enlightening way to share information and learn from, and about, one another. Content is often trite, lacking depth. 

These users' world views were becoming dominated by their social networking, and many discovered that they spent much less time interacting and conversing in the actual company of real humans. 

I have a Facebook account.  I reluctantly signed up because I had received a couple of requests from friends to do so.  I use the account sparingly, and it is not at all my predominant method of keeping in touch.  At first it is flattering to see the "friend" list grow.  But soon, as your friends collect even more "friends", and you start to be in touch less frequently, it becomes a metallic kind of loneliness, unless one is willing to spend hours each week maintaining the account.  

I began to feel like I was simply reading headlines from people's lives, and had little meaningful connection with them.  I find I am in better touch making "antiquated" phone calls or emails.  I even send text messages
(although Twitter is still not in my repertoire).   I have even written postal letters in the last couple of years...dinosaur that I am.

It is a tenuous connection I know. But the millions of people lining the streets today in Chicago needed some reason, some good excuse, to stand shoulder to shoulder with other warm bodies, to scream and cheer happily and be reinforced in their elation, and be wild and crazy with the cheering approval of other real human beings in their midst.   It means more to share a moment with strangers in real space and proximity, than to share mments with "friends" from the ioslation of the computer screen.

And for a few wonderful hours, at least two million people knew again the pleasure of pushing away from their social networking, and interacted with real people.  And if this is one of the modern benefits of sports, then I say, good job.  Go Hawks!

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