So, I’m forming a secret society and you’re invited to join. There’s no initiation fee, no member screening, and definitely no meetings. It’ll be great. We’ll have a complicated but elegant ritual handshake, a mystic-looking logo (something with a hairy eyeball and fleur de lis, maybe), and possibly decoder rings.

But, you may be asking yourself, “Why Mike? Why now? What compelling purposes will this secret society strive to accomplish?”

I don’t blame you. After all, my past efforts to organize people haven’t gone so well. Sadly, the debacle that was the First United Church of Uh-huh, Uh-huh back in the late seventies still lurks in my memory. Sure, hymns set to a disco beat were hip, but preachers in open-neck shirts, gold chains, and six-inch platform heels proved to be one toke over the line for most people. And, face it, the yearly telethon to benefit the incurably Anglo-Saxon tanked.

Hear me out. We’ll call this grassroots organization Seek New Opportunities for Resurgent Thronging. Or, if you will, S.N.O.R.T. (Like the G in gnarly, the for is acronymically silent)

audience with 3D glassesFace it, friends, as a people we are becoming increasingly isolated. And the culprit is communications technology. Ironically, devices and gizmos designed to allow us to stay in touch and tweet our every movement, desire, unsightly facial blemish, or change in prostate pressure stand accused of the crime. The evidence is overwhelming.

Before you dismiss this as just another rant by some old fart Luddite, consider this. I own a cell phone and have used it. You could look it up. (Okay, okay, so I’ve never actually received an incoming call and only keep it for the eventuality that I personally witness the second coming and need to text somebody.) Honestly, I don’t hate technology. I-phones, Droids, X-boxes, GPS systems and the like are a phenomenal development. They’re capable of bringing the world right into your car while you rocket down the road at eighty miles an hour ignoring rear view mirrors, pedestrians, and police sirens. You can have a pizza delivered while simultaneously T-boning a Smart Car. It’s all good.

The goal of S.N.O.R.T. then is not to bash those terminally self-involved people whose faces are literally glued to the screens of their I-pods (tempting as that prospect may be), but to draw attention to what we’re missing—actual face-to-face contact with other human beings.

I know many of you think you don’t miss it. After all, interacting with people can be messy. Sometimes they don’t smell so good. And they have opinions that might be different than your own. (A traumatic prospect for someone listening to Rush or Glenn on their smart phone). Plus, someone might say something provocative like, “Hey, how are you doing?” Then you’d have to come up with a response without using your thumbs.

Let’s talk about two of my favorite examples: movies and books. You no longer have to drive to a movie theater, buy a sixteen-dollar tub of popcorn larger than a barrel of crude oil (but with many of the same nutritional properties) and put up with twenty minutes of intelligence-insulting advertising mislabeled “pre-movie entertainment.” There’s no reason for you to sit through half a dozen previews of one-joke romantic comedies, male bonding tour de gross-outs, or slasher flicks featuring ritual disembowelments in “REAL 3 D.” There’s no need to hope what’s under your seat is only old chewing gum. You can load any movie you want, at your convenience, into your smart phone. And then, you can watch it all alone. Heck you can even tweet everyone on your list about how the movie is the second biggest waste of time of all time. The first biggest waste of time of all time, of course, is reading a tweet telling you what a waste of time the film is.

My wife and I recently saw The Kings Speech in a theatre near our home. The story of a reluctant prince with a speech impediment thrust into the role of Britain’s Monarch, as that nation stood poised on the brink of World War II, held a capacity crowd rapt for more than 2 hours, without once setting a stunt man on fire or having any characters chest bump. It’s well-written, impressively acted, funny, and poignant.

Sharing the pain, joy, and triumph of this man, as a group, as an audience, was a gratifying and humanizing experience. We could hear the collective intake of breath as King George VI prepared to utter his first words for a radio audience to reassure his subjects about the long cruel war they all faced. We were part of a roiling ocean of laughter as Lionel Logue, the hack actor, but brilliant speech therapist played by Geoffrey Rush, persuades the King to unleash a torrent of ugly profanities to cleanse him of inhibitions rooted in a deep inferiority complex.

At the end of the film, Carolyn and I joined the other hundred-plus souls in attendance in enthusiastic applause to show our appreciation. How often does that happen when you stream something and watch it by yourself or even in a small group? As we milled about the lobby with the others after the film, collectively trying to remember where we parked our cars or collectively trying to decide if we could “hold it” till we got home, people held spirited discussions about the deeper meaning of the film or relived their favorite moments. (Hearing a dear, little old lady trying to reenact the profanity-spewing scene while her companions double-timed her out of the building was memorable.) We were all bonded in the moment, the shared experience of watching a masterfully executed work of art. We claimed membership in the human family, the collective consciousness.

Books. I have no problem with either Kindle or Nook. Although, I will say, one term used to describe an avid fan of Nook could be badly misunderstood. I’m afraid anyone using the term to initiate a Google search might find him or herself smack in the middle of a most unsavory web site offering X-rated downloads. But I digress.

Anything that gets more people to read is okay by me. And if claiming that you’ve read War and Peace on your phone brings you as much satisfaction as someone who claims to have read it as a book-book, so be it. But, again, you’re missing a big part of the experience.

I’m a huge fan of independent book stores. And they’re struggling. Not only do they have trouble competing with the big chain stores, but electronic publishing and young people who only read things in 17-word bursts with no vowels involved make for a shrinking customer base. Sadly, I can imagine a time when you’ll have to download an old Lawrence Block “Burglar” book to read about the joys of mom-pop booksellers.

And here’s why they’re important. They bring people together who love to read, including the store owners who are in the business because they love books. If you patronize the same store regularly, you’ll usually find the person behind the counter will have recommendations about what you might want to read next. Small bookstores are a place to mingle with other readers, to talk books and read sample pages before you take that used paperback home to become a part of your family.

I’m especially fond of used books. There’s something reassuring in knowing that another reader or many other readers let their eyes linger over the same words I’m tracking. I wonder if they felt the same range of emotions and connection (or lack of) with the characters. I even like the turned back corners noting where someone may have stopped reading for the night. Sometimes you’ll find reader-penned notes in the margins or between the lines of books. Cryptic comments like: Surely she must see this man is big trouble or sometimes arcane or even puzzling handwritten footnotes such as: The Knights Templar regularly used yew branches to make their cudgels. A real head scratcher since it was scrawled on the margins of a Michael Connolly police procedural set in 1990’s Los Angeles with no references to The Knights Templar, yew trees or cudgels anywhere in the book.

Unless somebody hacks your download (no, I don’t know what that means either) you’ll miss this facet of  the collective reading experience. And you surely won’t have the pleasure of enjoying a non-corporate latte and some book chat with your favorite independent book store owner.

S.N.O.R.T.’s mission then is to encourage people to partake in the rich carnival that is life. Get out, mingle with other people, throng for goodness sake. Go to movies, bowl at an alley, not with your Wii in front of your big screen. Strike up a conversation with a stranger in the produce section of your supermarket, attend a poetry bash, hit some yard sales in your neighborhood, sit in the bleachers at a high school basketball game or in the peanut gallery of  the local community theatre company. (Often comical, if sometimes for the wrong reasons.)

If we don’t take advantage of our opportunities to share experiences, to become another flickering electron in the collective brain wave of America, I fear our hermitizing will continue. Everything people need for continued existence will either be streamed or downloaded—books, movies, television, music, news, opinions and spirituality. Anything with a component of molecular solidity will be delivered to our doors: groceries, hardware, furniture, auto parts, gourmet meals, lovers. Without the efforts of you, the members of Seek New Opportunities for Resurgent Thronging, America (and the world) will be reduced to smaller and smaller islands with people increasingly avoiding any kind of face-to-face contact. One day, I fear, Time or Newsweek (the online editions, naturally) will publish a story about a man (or woman) who has lived from birth to death, without once leaving home. This would be tragic, not only for burglars but for humankind in general.

Downloaders, desist! Tweeters, give your thumbs the day off. Nookies and Kindlites, fondle some paper. The message is clear. The time is now.  S.N.O.R.T. today. You can download a diagram demonstrating the secret handshake at www.snorthandshake.com

Sometimes a Great Commotion by Rose & NettletonIf you’re looking for a book to “share” with a friend, try the newest from Mike Nettleton and Carolyn Rose called Sometimes A Great Commotion. It’s the hilarious sequel to The Big Grabowski which wasn’t too shabby in the belly laugh department its own self. When fervid evangelist Elspeth Hunsaker believes she sees an holy figure scorched onto the surface of a fried crab cake, religious pilgrims descend on Devil’s Harbor to view the image, stressing the town’s water system and the locals. Meanwhile a con man posing as an protesting tree sitter is killed when the old growth Douglas Fir he’s camping atop is chainsawed to the ground. Molly Donovan must once again find the murderer and help restore order to the eccentric Oregon coastal town. Available as a book or Kindle through my Amazon author page at http://www.amazon.com/Mike-Nettleton/e/B0034YZG44/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_2 or link to it through the our web site at www.deadlyduomaysteries.com