Physical vs. Social Proximity at a Cafe

Posted on October 2, 2010. Filed under: startups, venture capital | Tags: , |

I’m sitting at a café on 10th street and 1st Avenue, sipping a tea and snacking on an amazing breseola and parmesan Panini.   Until one minute ago, I was 3 sentences into a blog post about The Social Network and the concept of isolation in entrepreneurship (which I will write after this).  As I gazed over the building line to a light blue sky, searching for the words that could best describe entrepreneurial isolation, something happened.  Out of nowhere, a flock of let’s say 50 white birds, that I can only assume are doves, appeared in the margin between the buildings that line the north and south sides of 10th st.  They began to circle inside the frame created by the tops of the brownstones and as they did, they waned in and out of visibility depending on weather they were facing a direction that allowed their white bodies to properly reflect the lowering sun behind me.  The image of the white flock against the blue back drop was striking, bit it was really the prolonged movement in circles and repeated flashes of white disappearing and reappearing, coupled with the contrast between the silence and grace of their movement and the ambient conversation and city sounds of 1st avenue, that made this occurrence noteworthy.  They circled for more than a minute, and as I watched their dance my immediate instinct was to Share.

I believe that instinct to share is not new, and if I were with someone at this table, I almost certainly would have pointed them to the scene and helped them to enjoy this beautiful sliver of life, but in the absence of a friend, I immediately reached for my mobile device.  Between my iPhone’s camera, my Twitter Application, and my Facebook Application, I am so used to pushing out what I experience in life, that it was second nature to want to capture this moment and publish it. As I cycled through my sharing options, I realized that a photo wouldn’t really do this experience justice, “ok, how about video?  But they are so far away, and the microphone on this thing isn’t going to work, and I have 270 degrees of perspective that it’s not going to capture, and the video can’t feel this breeze on my legs, this is not an experience that’s shareable.”

I put down my phone, and continued to watch the birds circle, thinking to myself, that “it’s okay just to have an unshared, personal moment of enjoyment.”  In fact, I don’t have enough of these moments thanks to the share instinct that Twitter and Facebook have undoubtedly amplified in my mind.  Just as I resolved to that point, I snapped out of my own head, looked around the café a bit, and saw a young woman who was methodically waiting tables, moving sugars from one table top to the next, picking up menus, washing down surfaces, and as she whisked by me, continuing in her routine, I grabbed her and said “Hey, look at that.  And I pointed her to the birds, and directed her to watch as they changed direction and caught the sun in a way that would light up the blue backdrop white.  She felt the breeze I felt, and experienced the contrast of their silent dance with the sounds of the city, and for 20 seconds, one other human being was able to experience 100% of what it was that I wanted to Share.

We watched for a bit longer, the birds fell below the building line, and then we returned to our respective lives.  As I sit here now, I realize that as far as we have come in recreating offline human experiences through online products that harness the power of visual capture (photo and video), audio capture (microphone), textual description (text/blog/microblog), etc., everything that is shared and pushed through the social graph, and consumed or experienced by those with whom we share is some fraction of reality.  If our goal is to truly Share ourselves, and more broadly the human experience as we live it, I find physical proximity to be a requisite, and almost urge the Sharing of experience with the strangers that surround you as a viable alternative to the sharing of diluted experience with those socially but not physically proximate.  I am obsessed with improving how we interact with our local graph.  It must happen.

P.S. (The birds came back, did my best to take the above photo)

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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