Have you wondered if today’s teenagers engaging in marathon texting sessions ever speak to each other? Or if people out to dinner have conversations? It seems that texting, emailing, and checking phones constantly has become the norm — and that the art of connecting in person is becoming a thing of the past.
But there is hope.
The Piazza: The Center of Life in Italy
We can turn to Italy for some guidelines on connecting with our friends and family. It’s something Italians have been doing for centuries: meeting up at the piazza.
In Italian, piazza means “square,” which clearly doesn’t sound as romantic. Since piazzas were first built ages ago, these main squares have been the central hub of Italian life. Historically, it was where meetings, political announcements, and protests took place. A place for celebration, the piazza was also, sadly, a place of tragedy. The heretic priest Fra Savonarola was condemned, hanged, and burned in Piazza Signoria in Florence at the end of the 15th century. A metal plaque in the ground still marks the spot.
Traditionally, no matter how big or small the town, the piazza is where people come together to communicate and congregate. It’s where you might see a friend of a friend and ask that a message be passed on. It is a hub of activity where tourists, locals, children, vespas, and soccer balls convene at all hours of the day and night for friendship and fun.
Connecting is Part of the Culture
When I lived in Rome, it was just understood that after work, friends and I would head over to Campo dei Fiori to have a drink, chat about life, or figure out where to go for dinner. Sometimes it was just a check-in on the way home. Even today, as 18-year-old Daniele tells me, “We use Facebook messages or texts to coordinate, but regardless, we are always meeting at the same spot in the piazza. And even if your particular friends are not there, you will always find someone to talk to.”
An interesting statistic shows that 68% of American households have Internet compared to 31% of their Italian counterparts. We are on the computer at home much more than they are. They spend more time on their mobile phones so that they can be just that: mobile.
What if You Don’t Live in Italy
Piazza life has inspired films (“Three Coins in the Fountain”) and a Broadway show (Light in the Piazza). But if you are not lucky enough to live in Italy or take a trip, how can you experience the same connection found in those piazzas?
Here are some suggestions.
Go out to the central hub of your neighborhood or town and stay there for a while. Frequent a local café or store so the owner knows you by name.
Find your piazza, whatever it may be — a park, a corner café, someone’s home. Create a standing appointment that people don’t have to RSVP to; whomever shows up shows up.
In any offline gathering like a get-together, party, or dinner, use online tools including phone, social media, and email to coordinate details. But once there leave the technology turned off. Since over 90% of what someone is saying is communicated nonverbally, make sure you are truly present to get the whole message.
Check in with your offline/online ratio. Make sure you spend a good balance of your time connecting with people live. If you meet friends in a virtual community, make sure to meet with them in person, if geographically possible.
Go out into a piazza and just sit at a café and people watch. Strike up a conversation with a stranger. Be spontaneous.
Although smart phones and computers have made our lives easier in many ways, it’s still important to connect with our friends and family — in person at a designated piazza. I don’t live in Italy anymore, but I have committed to offline connections as much as my online ones, and that has made my life richer. It can do the same for you.
Photo Credits: Michel27, gre.ceres, Florian Prischl, and Wanderingtheworld.