In a comedy skit from the distant memories of my past is a nun in a parochial school that asks a student to read an assigned essay. It was called “What I Did On My Summer Vacation”. The students monotone reading went something like this – Day one. I got up. Went downtown to look for a job. Hung out in front of the drugstore. Day two. I got up. Went downtown to look for a job. Hung out in front of the drugstore. Day three. I got up. Went downtown to look for a job. Got a job keeping people from hanging out in front of the drugstore. There was more to the skit of course, but I thought that was funny because my friends and I, when we weren’t working, hung out in front of the drugstore.* We went there to by a “coke” but what we bought was different flavored pop that cost a dime. We pooled our money and bought two cans of “pop” and shared it among three or four guys.
There was a time when “hanging out” was real cool. Malls took over the front of the drugstore as the place to be. When I came to this town in 1978 a large Mall was either being constructed or had just been completed and the advertising tease said “Meet Me at Columbia Mall”. Anchored by retail stores like Dayton’s, Macy’s, Penney’s, Sear’s, Neimen Marcus, Dillard’s, Famous Bar, Donaldson’s, and a host of others, Malls were huge and kept getting hugher. The apotheosis of the Mall was created in Edmonton Alberta Canada and it’s offspring is the Mall of America in Bloomington MN. It is 5.6 million square feet and has over 500 stores, give or take as the economy goes. In our Northern Crossings we have this mega entertainment/retail/boutique/thing in common. For years folks from North Dakota traveled to Minneapolis for one reason and that was to go to the Mall. They might throw in a baseball, football, hockey game in too, but they were going to the Mall. There are some interesting things going on with the retail anchor stores. They are in serious trouble. Look at the list above and you will see names that do not exist anymore. There is evidence that retail stores are losing their customers. Macy’s is in big trouble and even Niemann Marcus may be taken over by Hudson Bay.
Two issues seem to be making times tough for retailers. The first issue happened the first time a customer asked for a product and the clerk said, we don’t have it in stock but we can order it for you”. “I can order it myself from my cell phone and it will arrive at my door without my having to worry about you screwing up the order” seems to be the response. I would like to think that political statements and boycotts by stores don’t help but I am not sure that is a big deal. The other issue is what is considered “hanging out” today and the changing nature of gathering. Face book and twitter and cell phones have changed the conception of gathering and hanging out. Who needs to hang out in front of the drug store with five or six friends when you can get a thousand followers on twitter. If you pay attention you will note that having a corporeal presence near you, even in a restaurant over dinner, does not mean you are “present” in a real sense if you are staring at your smart phone and texting someone else.
Not needing a corporeal presence next to you to hang out with them is a huge psychological and philosophical issue. “Meet Me At the Mall” is too much work and the social aspect of going is mitigated by the device that transmitted the message. Why should we meet when we are already together on our devices?
There is a message for the church here too. The place where we “gathered” in sacred space to be gifted by God with His mercy can be transmitted to us by TV and radio and WIFI etc. Those who see the decline in worship attendance are now trying the electronic avenue to preach and teach the Word. The pastor’s gambit of “I haven’t seen you in church” is crippled by the riposte, “I got it on the live streaming”.
*Think of this sentence. I “went to the skit” on YouTube. It seems an absurdity because I never left my chair and yet I “went to You Tube”. You can watch this skit by Cheech and Chong by looking up “Sister Mary Elephant” or click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSJ_k49ITUY