It was a beautiful morning on November 11, Remembrance Day. I decided to take our family dog, Stella, to Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver for a nice long walk. She loves to fetch a rubber ball, especially if she gets to swim to retrieve it.
As we worked our way up the sea wall, I listened to CBC Radio One through a streaming live audio feed from my smart phone. The time was approaching 11.00 a.m. and I wanted to make sure I would be able to hear coverage of Canada’s official Remembrance Day ceremony and observe the traditional two minutes of silence. (The ceremony is held at the National War Memorial in Ottawa and it’s delayed on the radio so it can be heard “live” at 11.00 a.m. across the country.)
As I walked along the sea wall, I noticed lots of people wearing red poppies, including a good number of senior citizens, of whom there are many in West Vancouver. About a minute before the ceremony was to begin, I happened upon a group of five or six people – it looked as if they were members of a family – who were standing around an elderly man sitting on a park bench.
My social instincts took over, and I came up to the group with my phone’s speaker on, and said, “Hi, I’ve got the CBC on and the Remembrance Day ceremony is about to start. Do you want to listen to it with me?”
They nodded, and we all listened as I held the phone out in front of me, cupping my hand so the sound carried a little better. We all got to hear the National Anthem, followed by the familiar, hauntingly beautiful Last Post. Then the gun salute marking the start of the two minutes of silence. And then, for a few minutes more, we heard the ceremony continue, and I figured I should take my leave before we all started to feel awkward.
The folks at the park bench thanked me, some with a kind word or two, others with nods and friendly, knowing looks. I returned the gesture. “Thanks,” I said, “These kinds of moments are always more meaningful when you can share them with someone.”
As Stella and I walked away, a squadron of vintage prop planes passed overhead in a ceremonial flyover. Looking up, I thought about the enormous value of shared experience. And I realized that the little gathering around my phone was a microcosm of what’s happening out there in the world today. Technology – whether it’s a live streaming audio feed on a smart phone, or a “Like” button on a Facebook post, or a viral video on YouTube – is helping bring people together in countless new ways.
Although it sounds a bit strange, for me it was a natural thing to offer my phone to a group of people gathered around a park bench. Whether it’s on a beach or inside an organization, the essence of the communicator’s role is to build community by creating positive shared experiences.