While doing research for my master’s project — I’ll be writing about best practices in small social groups in synagogues and other organizations — I began reading Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone.” In this book, I came across this amazing fact:
“Informal outings, like picnics, also seem on the path to extinction. The number of picnics per capita was slashed by nearly 60 percent between 1975 and 1999.” (pg. 100)
Picnics per capita? This is amazing: It means that there are human beings in this world — researchers with fancy degrees, no less — who measure and monitor picnics as an academic study.
I can just picture it. Members of the research team — which I presume is named Team Yogi Bear — spend summer afternoons going from parks to beaches to lakefronts to campgrounds, looking for red checkered blankets and brown wicker baskets. Upon finding a case study, the team zeroes in, and maybe even talks to the picnickers. “Excuse me, are you having a picnic today?” they’d ask. “How many picnics have you had this month? This year? How did it compare to the picnicking of your childhood? Also, can I have a bite of that pasta salad?”
The researchers would inevitably get hungry themselves, and whip out their own blankets and baskets and hold their own picnics. But then, would they be skewing the data? When passersby see the researchers having a picnic, does it remind them of the picnics of their childhood, and inspire them to have their own picnic the next sunny Sunday? How can we possibly trust this data?
And what, pray tell, is the cause of this demise of these meals-on-a-blanket? Is it the weather? Too many bugs? It’s probably that picnics are not close enough to TV screens and WiFi signals.
Picnic enthusiasts of the world, let’s reverse the trend. Let’s give these researchers something to notice — a sharp rise in picnicking, beginning summer 2015. I’ll start making sandwiches.