Paris Street Café, George W. Bates (1930)
If I could zip to any place and time, it would be Paris in the early to mid-1900’s. I would love to be a ladybug on the wall (you didn’t expect me to wish fly-dom on myself, did you?) of a Saturday night Rue de Fleurus salon, hosted by the esteemed Gertrude Stein. I get all starry-eyed considering what it would be like to listen in as the likes of Hemingway, Picasso, Matisse…Thornton Wilder… Ezra Pound… Sinclair Lewis…(GAH!!!) mixed and mingled and chatted. All this, presided over by a gal from Pittsburgh, PA with a knack for writing. Elsewhere and a few years down the road, Parisians and intellectual heavyweights such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus were doing their own socializing. It’s positively drool-worthy to contemplate.
However, my motivation to eavesdrop goes beyond the realm of ladybug fangirl. It’s not as if Sartre is worth ogling, after all. Rather, I crave the ideas that were surely tossed around in this atmosphere. That many creative minds in close quarters must have made for some highly interesting and potentially stormy conversation… truly substantial discourse.
Humans evolved as social creatures. We rely on each other for survival, protection, and mental health. I realize that a brief foray into the world of redneck Twitter is enough to challenge this assertion, however, the fact remains that we are merely troupes of primates making our way through the world. As such, some of our best work occurs in a cooperative, pro-social atmosphere. Great ideas don’t typically develop in a void. Rather, it is the give and take, the conflict and the challenge, the approach from variable angles that allows us to traverse intellectual frontiers. It’s almost like cognitive alchemy, the swish and swirl of ideas that become a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Over the years, the ancient Greek symposium, the Parisian salon have given way to social media. This is the new mode of human meetings of the mind. While there are certainly drawbacks, and a concerning number of cat videos involved, this form of mingling does have certain charms. After all, we have access to superior minds across all fields of expertise, at just the tap of a screen. We can bounce ideas around. Argue. Dig up sources and then argue about the validity of the information. And at times, this may seem like a futile and frustrating endeavor. It is easy to curse and chuck your phone into the couch, only to watch it miss entirely and land on the unsuspecting dog (no animals were harmed in the writing of this blog).
However, I encourage you to make the most of the tools for social interaction at our disposal. Never has it been easier to reach beyond your troupe to find those who would improve your cognitive process and your ability to think critically. Embrace the social animal you are, and take a moment to appreciate the beauty of humanity that rests at your fingertips.
And perhaps ignore the cat videos. At least for now.