Susan Pinker and Cashier Chat
Saturday, April 04, 2020
Dr. Susan Pinker is the psychologist whose research on social connection has underscored how important face-to-face interaction is to longevity.
Women have lived longer than men in almost all societies because, even in a digital age, they still connect more face-to-face. (Yes, of course there's a Pinker TED talk on the topic -- from 2017!!)
Or: they did: until COVID-19 imposed our new regimes of social distancing. On men and women alike . . .
A short piece in my Globe this morning cites Susan Pinker's account of new neuroscience research demonstrating that the need for social connection "resides" in the same area of the brain as our craving for food. Social connection, she says, is as essential for human survival as food itself.
Are we eating more while we're social-isolating? Or at the very least, feeling hungrier?
Another short piece in my Globe this morning points to the burden we may be imposing on our heroic grocery store cashiers. If our only social interaction is checking out our groceries, and each and every one of us uses that brief interaction to talk about COVID-19, then the cashier can quickly become utterly overwhelmed.
One grocery store manager has requested that customers who feel the need to chat talk about ANYTHING other than the pandemic. The weather, the robins, the crocuses. But, he says: please NOT about our fears or the latest statistics about planking the curve. Because the cashier is actually dealing with those fears much more intensely and all day long than we are . . . needing the work, doing the work, but worrying about what she's taking home to her family at the end of the day. She didn't sign on to be our psychotherapist too.
Yes, I can do that. Our trip to pick up groceries this morning was fast fast fast: in at 7 am , and out in 40 minutes with the other seniors. It was astonishing how well stocked (fresh raspberries? abundant TP?) and how clean (sanitized carts, hand washing stations, hand sanitizers too) and how organized (pathways set out up and down the aisles right to the plexi-screened checkout) the store was yet again today.
Saw several people we know and exchanged greetings from a distance.
Nodded to the shelf stockers. And thanked the cashier warmly . . . but no COVID-19 chat. None at all. .