I read recently that loneliness is on the rise as a population health issue. The article explained that social isolation can be as damaging to health as 15 cigarettes a day and obesity and is being exacerbated in an age of technology. Another article explored ways people can more consciously expand their gaze beyond apps and online profiles to open themselves up to opportunities to connect with people in person. So how easy is it to connect in San Francisco… in person?
A previous blog post explained that San Francisco is a densely populated city. More people to make friends with I would hope! However, it’s commonly assumed that living in a big city can be more socially isolating than living in a small town where everyone knows each other. Contrary to this, author Emily White theorized that it all depends on how connected we feel in whatever kind of city or town we’re living in. Based on my own experiences so far, I have to agree with her. But like any feeling they can change and are impacted by many factors including our perceptions, our environment and the community around us.
Last week my friend Fern and I made an impromptu stop at the Friday Night Market near City Hall. We were on our way home on the bus from a day at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival at the Golden Gate Park. Despite how tired we felt, when we saw the market we felt inspired to join and so jumped off the bus without giving it much thought. It was a small market with live music, food trucks, vintage clothing stalls and games. The music was upbeat and lively, there was dancing and everyone seemed to be having a good time. We were having so much fun we called our partners to come out to the market and join us rather than heading home. We stayed for hours.
While it was still daylight we played Cornhole and partook in a game of giant Jenga with a few people we didn’t know. The games were great at bringing people together. At Jenga, it didn’t seem to matter who’s turn it was. If someone looked interested in having a try they were invited to do so. If they didn’t know how to play, another person taught them. If someone was too shy, they were encouraged. Some people were in pairs or groups, some seemed to be alone, but everyone was smiling, engaging with each other and enjoying the game.
After we’d filled our bellies with gourmet sliders I walked back toward the food trucks for some delicious Chimney cake and passed the Jenga game which by that time had exploded into a crowd cheering and jumping with excitement each time someone took a turn. I was almost compelled to re-join was it not for my overwhelming desire for Chimney cake.
Throughout the course of the evening we had many more positive interactions with friendly strangers including police officers and a woman who took our photo in front of City Hall for us. We chatted with the woman for a little while about her dog which was with her at the time. The gorgeous Golden Retriever decided he wanted to be in our photo with us.
So although I’m still settling in and finding my feet in this new City, that environment made me feel connected. With my friends, with fellow San Franciscans and with the City.