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Just before 3pm this afternoon millions of people will watch Sweden play England for a place in a World Cup semi-final. It will almost certainly be the largest TV audience of the year so far. Increasingly, in a digital world of watch what you want, when you like, where you please, such a huge, set-piece shared national experience is almost, you might say, counter cultural.
After the dramatic penalty shoot-out on Tuesday evening, many of the airwaves were buzzing with anecdotal stories of what listeners were up to at the time. Along with whom they were with and how they reacted-this made for great wall to wall “laugh out loud” radio. Such was the drama, one social media user posted: “my watch, monitoring my heartbeat, telling me I’m about to die during England v Columbia game”.
Today is also one of the most popular days of the year for weddings. So newspapers have had plenty of stories in the past few days of how couples are working their way round a clash of two very big 3pm kick offs. One groom protested: “What have I done?” before adding, rather amusingly: “The Welsh side of the family picked the date!”
In his book Cognitive Purpose, the sociologist Clay Shirky observes that we can achieve, what he refers to, as a sense of personal value when, instead of spending time alone, we share events with others. Against a backdrop of increasing digital isolation, Shirky reminds his reader that humans have both ‘social’ as well as ‘personal’ motivations: “Personal sharing”, he writes “is the simplest kind; both the participants and beneficiaries are acting individually but get personal value out of one another’s presence.”
As a priest, it’s part of my duty to recite selected psalms from the Bible with others twice a day. And after many years of doing so, one hits on vivid common themes as you repeat all 150 of them over a period of time. The Psalms are all about personal sharing. They refer to times of joy, happiness and sorrow; hope is celebrated before despondency sets in. God is usually depicted as present, assisting and encouraging as a shepherd guides his flock, but God can equally seem remote or absent resulting in a common bewilderment shared by all.
Psalm 67 is a great example – and hugely appropriate for a day like to today which, for many, is full of expectation. The writer of this Psalm cries out: Let the people praise you O God in a song which brings diverse peoples together in the proclamation that they are not, after all, experiencing this all alone. Let the nations rejoice! Let’s do this together. Let’s enjoy the spectacle – the Psalm goes on. As the Hebrew scholar Artur Weiser suggests: the people are brought together “united by their common obligations through personal sharing of the simplest kind.
Shared common experiences on a large scale may indeed be increasingly rare in the digital jungle, but they still bring out the best in us – and, most important of all, bring us together in the simplest of ways. Enjoy the match!