Thursday, August 31, 2006

What Need Have We to Ponder?

We live in “me me me, my my my, now now now” times. We’re not content to wait for mail; we get instant messages (in either email or chat form) from friends and family almost instantly. The benefits to such communication are obvious – we feel closer than ever to those we love. We no longer need to wait weeks to see how someone is, or what they are up to. However, we are afflicted with the side-effects of this expedient communication, and are ignoring them in such a way as to make us incapable of dealing with the situations which lead to or make up everyday social encounters.

Rather than pick up a phone to hear another’s voice, we’ll settle for a chat where we can see the person through their webcam, but won’t spend the money or time to actually go see them – whether they live in the next town, a different country, or even right around the corner.

We sign onto MySpace, and call as “friends” hundreds of people who we will, likely, never even speak to personally – even once. But as we must have the “friend” count appear high, we send out random requests to people we don’t know and who may very well not be inclined to ever get to know us. These are friends? Can we rely on them in our hour of need? Will these hundreds share a beer with us, or a hug? While MySpace enables people who went to high school or college together to reconnect, will it one day be the case that a high school reunion takes place not in person, but online? God help us if this is so.

And really: Is it correct to call a band that sends me a “Friend Request” a friend when it is likely, were I to see them in concert, that a simple sending of the business card backstage will result in nothing more than time wasted waiting for a one-on-one visit that will not come to pass?

We choose to try and find the ones we love courtesy of eHarmony or JDate, instead of going to a bar, to a party, or making friends who might have someone interesting to introduce to us.

We deride our politicians, but don’t actually vote in any elections. We act as experts on foreign policy, but can’t even point out Iraq or Afghanistan on a map. Instead of trying to unite the country, we work to divide it along the lines of “red states” and “blue states”. All we know about our country we learn about from biased news networks, biased newspapers, or biased personal websites; when was the last time the ordinary citizen picked up a book-sized copy of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers or Common Sense?

We work fifty hours a week, say we do so for our family, but rarely actually see our wives or children. Rather than sit three-year-olds in a corner for five minutes when they misbehave, or set boundaries for them, we have them pop a pill and expect it to chemically keep our kids in line for us. Conversation all but stops during “American Idol”; we’ve relegated family discussion time to the commercial breaks of “24”, “CSI” and “Survivor”. We buy pets, neglect them, and then punish them harshly when they chew up our DVDs – because they’re desperate for our attention.

We go on diets to get healthy, but still smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. Rather than look people in the eyes, we avoid them by looking down at our MP3 player’s info screen. We rely on caffeine as a substitute for a good night’s sleep. Rather than go to an actual movie theater, with its tantalizing smell of popcorn, its over-priced soda, its big screens and, oh yeah, other people, we download movies to our home computers to watch them – generally – alone.

Will we one day wake up, and instead of going out to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of a rainy day, bask in the light of a pixelated sun in a virtual sky of blue? Will the actual pleasure of making love on a beach give way to the technologically-stimulated, albeit virtual, pleasure of cyber-sex? Is seeing a girl’s naked picture on the net really more preferable to seeing it in the flesh?

Will we one day care so little about our government that we allow it to devolve into something it was never meant to be? Will we one day, by surrendering parenting skills for pharmacology, find that not only are we disconnected from our children, but that we haven’t prepared them to be effective parents either? Will we become so alienated and lonely that one day, when we need an actual hug, there will be no one for us to get such a thing from?

Where, exactly, are we going? Who are we going there with (or not going there without)?

What are we doing with our lives? What are we choosing to not do with them?


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