DRILLINGER DOES is a weekly column that chronicles the exploits of urban daredevil Meagan Drillinger throughout the five boroughs. Every Monday is another adventure — from whiskey tours and no-pants subway rides to sex club date nights.
Remember the days when your cellphone was not an appendage? You know, those times when you wouldn’t check your Instagram/Email/Facebook/Whatsapp every 30 seconds and eye contact was a thing? Remember actually speaking to people at all? No? Me neither. But I hear at one point in our society, a time existed when social media was actually about…being social…in real life; not even with an @ symbol. Crazy, I know. Maybe it was a simpler time; some might even argue a better time, but a forgotten time it is for sure.
Until, maybe, now.
Last week — in a search for human interaction and conversation — I made my way out to Williamsburg’s The Velvet Lounge for an inaugural meeting of the minds: Salon Demimonde. The brainchild of Tayannah McQuillar, Salon Demimonde was the result of endless frustration with the now omnipresent New York stance: hunched over, right hand cocked up, face awash with a glowing backlit screen, eye contact with…no one. McQuillar wanted to create a haven where “bon vivants” with diverse interests could meet on a monthly basis in a safe space to exchange and debate ideas. Since I can’t remember the last time I communicated without hashtags, I figured this might be a nice change of pace.
The Velvet Lounge is exactly the type of location you’d expect for a resurgent salon, with plush, mauve, velvet curtains, flickering candles, and forest green Victorian couches. Through the main bar area I found my way to the cozy back room, where McQuillar was setting up for her first event. Bright red lipstick, a warm, broad smile, and a streak of white dye through her jet-black hair, she passed throughout the room greeting her guests who took time out of their busy schedules to turn their phones off and have a conversation. A cast of characters began to trickle in. There was the fellow who studied Shamanism and astrology, the woman in a turban and fur coat with a quick, biting wit, the mustachioed gentleman, and the self-proclaimed “cynic,” among others. An unlikely motley crew, the group began to chat with each other almost instantaneously, very curious to learn about what brought every one to this particular event. The energy of the room bubbled with creativity and genuine interest…and the menu of specialty cocktails certainly didn’t hurt the flow of conversation.
It’s difficult to generalize how an inaugural event is supposed to run, but the idea behind these events is to have a guest speaker lead a dialogue by presenting a topic. This first guest speaker was Megan McCormick, host of the popular TV show Globe Trekker, who would draw on her diverse international experience to lead us through a discussion on the plausibility of world peace and the human condition — a light, fluffy topic to get the ball rolling.
McQuillar started the discussion with one word: revenge. She then gave us all a few minutes to ponder the word and to express whatever it conjured up for us. After a few awkward pauses, people began to dip their toes into the debate, offering drips and drabs of opinions. And then, slowly, the discussion was off and running, taking on a life of its own, morphing into topics on race, global super powers, drug use, and the human, primal urges to become violent. Every person participated. Every person had experience to draw from. People asked questions, accepted opposing views respectfully, and built off one another’s ideas. No one picked up his or her phone. No one even knew how much time had passed, but it turned out we’d been talking, tech-free, for more than an hour.
We are in an age of instant gratification and a constant need for social validation. Our confidence and worth is measured in “likes” and “retweets.” We hide behind screens, because if our opinions go unnoticed or “unliked,” we can delete them, and it’s as if they never happened. We have become afraid to speak our minds for fear that someone isn’t going to like what we have to say, or maybe that what we have to say is stupid. Or maybe it’s as simple as verbal discourse is just not as interesting as exchanging witty hashtags. This is what McQuillar wants to change (monthly on Thursdays at The Velvet Lounge). “Eye contact and in-person conversation should never go out of style,” she says.
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