In the seemingly distant past, when TVs were the pinnacle of luxury, major televised events–like Elizabeth II’s coronation–became major events. These so-called media events centered around a media experience, but were truly communal. People crammed into living rooms and public spaces with TVs to watch the spectacle.
That has changed. Media events were always uncommon but now they are few and far between. As Robert Putnam theorizes, TV has caused the fragmentation of society. He really does go as far as to say that TV might well be the ruination of western civilization. This is a bit extreme, perhaps, but it does seem that television no longer unites us but rather divides us up into our individual living rooms–and even drives family members into their own rooms to watch their own screens.
Perhaps that is why it was so refreshing during to see that we do not need television to create a moment of coming together. On Monday, during the peak of the eclipse in NYC people stood outside office buildings and restaurants and stores, all looking at the sky through absurd “glasses” that looked rather like old-fashioned 3D glasses. People were in awe. And they were friendly. They passed around glasses and pinpoint projectors made out of shoeboxes and the like.
I didn’t have glasses, but I’d read that the iPhone camera was wide enough that the lens wouldn’t magnify the light enough to damage the camera or my eyes. The photos weren’t amazing because the light was bright enough and (obviously) distant enough that the sun basically looks slightly less spherical. The lens flare (the bright blue thing in the photo), which is usually circular, was only a crescent–a better indication than the lumpy-looking sun that there was an eclipse. The trick of getting even that was bringing the exposure adjustment down (that’s why it looks so dark–it really was a normal, bright sunny day).
Still there I was taking the photo, and a woman walks over to me and ask, “can you see it in a photo?” I told her that it was barely anything but it was still something. So she tried but it was too bright. I told her to do the exposure adjustment thing. She didn’t know how to, so she held out her phone for me to show her.
A few blocks away, I ran into someone I knew–someone I’ve only met a handful of times through a mutual friend. The odds of that in such a big city are slim (especially for an introvert like myself), but everyone was outside so I guess the odds rose enough. He didn’t have glasses either but was sharing a pair with someone he barely knew. They asked if I had a pair. When I responded in the negative, they instantly offered me their glasses. So the three of us near-strangers stood on the sidewalk and chatted and passed around the eclipse glasses (which gave you a decent photo if you held them up to your camera lens, hence the featured photo on this post). And we let passers-by borrow them, too.
My mom was worried about me being out during the eclipse; “things are weird in the country right now and the eclipse might escalate it.” Granted she’s a worrier, but she has a point that violence, hatred, and anger seem the norm these days. It wasn’t like that at all on Monday. For about 30 minutes, New Yorkers (generally a jaded and aloof bunch) stood on every sidewalk acting rather like my elementary school class did when we watch a partial eclipse back in the 1990s, with nothing but cereal boxes we’d brought from home. It was almost more awe-inspiring than the eclipse. After all eclipses just happen; these communal experiences don’t.