Can it be true? Has it come to this? It was bad enough when ambitious, young entertainers could no longer dream of the day they’d be a guest on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”. Now the newspaper industry is dying—soon no one will be able to dream of someday being “in the headlines”! These social lynchpins connected us to each other, just as Sunday once brought communities together each week. People don’t ‘gather’ anymore. Well, sometimes they do, but it’s called “Occupy” Wall St., or wherever they happen to be gathering.
Summer campgrounds once gave us mini-communities, in which vacationing families would see each other as neighbors for the duration of the vacation—comments about how the kids have grown, or a new baby, or the latest Coleman camping accessory—even when we went away from our communities, we just formed new, temporary ones with whoever was at the same campground. No theme parks. No Hyatts. Just a bare patch of dirt in the woods, ready for tent-staking, and a lakeside beach for relaxing, while the kids ran themselves to exhaustion….
Where else have we stopped connecting with each other? Everywhere except the internet. But people give the Web too much credit—I bet a lot of people who are separated from each other find that ‘skyping’ is just as distant and unsatisfactory as a phone call used to be—communication, but no warmth, no flesh.
One of the things that contributes to culture shock when visiting some other countries is the total absence of internet access—and sometimes even electricity. It’s funny to think that in many communities around the world, people still are born, live their lives and die without ever using electricity. I suppose the Amish might understand, but I’d be at a total loss in such a place.
As time passes, I seem to focus more on the things that are leaving, or already gone, than the things that are new. Take ‘Skyping’ as an example—I have no desire to Skype somebody—but in my twenties, I would have lunged at that. Much of new technology guarantees two things: (1) Something a bit more charmingly civilized will be lost. And (2) Our remove from our forebears (and from the present Third World cultures) gets wider and wider.
Think of this modern rash of ‘school shootings’—could we, back when we were students, have gotten away with anything like that? No, we were living in each other’s laps, compared to the way families live today. And obesity—that was a practical impossibility back in, say, the 1950’s—daily life simply required more movement and activity than is needed today.
That is not to say that all that communing was always a good thing—there were lynch mobs, riots, secret brotherhoods, lots of bad things—but a total lack of any ‘mingling’ in our daily lives is such a departure from our heritage. Is community activity a necessary part of a happy culture? Have we lost in Civilization what we gained in Progress?
I am, perhaps, more attuned to this, due to my shut-in-like lifestyle—most folks my age are still interacting with society a lot more than I do. But I can see in young people (including our own) a tendency towards solitary activity—even when communing with each other, they commune online. I think flash mobs are in some ways a result of the lack of actual connection between an online group of friends—they organize a brief meeting and an organized interaction, then all walk away like nothing happened. But, that may be the only time something actually happens in their lives, sans keyboard and mouse.
It worries me.