When I joined the Downtown Athletic Club in 1984, it was 17 years before the introduction to society of the iPod. It was not uncommon to have someone come up and ask if they could work in with you on piece of equipment or for you to ask someone for some assistance — provide a spot or a lift-off in gym-speak. Through the conversations that would ensue between sets, other members turned into acquaintances and then friends. At some point, I saw the similarity with the TV show “Cheers,” where you go to be with friends and where everybody knows your name.
It’s been 17 years since the advent of iPods and earbuds, the electronic isolation tanks that allow people to avoid interactions even in densely occupied social spaces such as the gym. Now, engaging in the arc from conversation to acquaintance to friend often feels like an invasion of people’s private spaces.