Like many people, I'm sometimes jarred by headlines that offer up extreme examples of society-gone-terribly-wrong.
Not long ago, for example, I blogged about what happened when a retiree told the Sydney police office she could not reach another 86-year-old resident who lived alone. Officers who checked in on the resident -- who'd lived in the same house for more than seven decades -- discovered she had been lying dead, undiscovered, for eight years.
While news stories like these are exceptions, they tend to capture our attention. The thought of a long-time resident possibly lying in need of help for days offends our internal moral code. Something inside of us screams out: This isn't the way life should be.
I don't know about you, but these sorts of headlines raise my awareness... at least temporarily. For a while, I am paying a little more attention. I'm noticing, for example, everyday evidence that society may be losing some connectedness. But I confess, amidst my to-do lists and chronic multi-tasking, this cautionary warning tends to fade away almost as quickly as it surfaced.
These feelings that society is rushing away from us, and we have no choice but to surrender to a world with less community, are not limited to just me of course. There are plenty of people raising questions about the doubts that arise in their own experiences.
Take a recent study covered by Amanda Marcotte, for example. The article, "Let's Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooker Dinner," concedes that times are changing. And the research suggests that perhaps we should just accept how things have evolved.
The home-cooked meal has long been romanticized ... but while home-cooked meals are typically healthier than restaurant food, sociologists Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliott, and Joslyn Brenton from North Carolina State University argue that the stress that cooking puts on people, particularly women, may not be worth the trade-off.
On the other hand, there are voices like David Harsanyi, author behind a recent article entitled "The Counter Cultural Appeal of 19 Kids and Counting," that reflect an unexpected longing for the Good Old Days:
Though it stands to reason that the show is often staged, what I see cuts against many cultural notions we have about family: what children strive for, what parents owe their kids, how a family acts towards one another, what young people are capable of. Considering what we see on TV, it's basically transgressive. A place where homeschooling is treated as a reasonable way to educate your children, where kids talk about "honoring" their parents rather than demanding things from them, and where older kids start successful small businesses without a traditional college education ... In any event, it's almost impossible to not be charmed.
Others observing our fast-paced, techno-savvy culture, like John Frank Weaver at Slate, suggest less accommodation and more caution. In his article, "We Need to Pass Legislation on Artificial Intelligence Early and Often," he argues:
Economists and historians traditionally claim that the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution led to the creation of a large middle class in the United States. That's only partly true. The technology certainly made that middle class possible, but the legal innovations that we created following the Industrial Revolution made possible the widespread prosperity of the mid-20th century American middle class: minimum wage laws, child labor laws, laws protecting unions, regulations governing workplace safety and environmental protection, etc. All of these laws tried to help average Americans benefit from the new system that the Industrial Revolution introduced.
These misgivings are likely also part of what caused Andrew Leonard to write "Why I Switched Sides In the Technology War," where he admits:
Where once I evangelized, now I feel disposed to caution. Where once I gleefully trumpeted the way everything was going to change and everybody better get on board the train before they were run over on the tracks, now I find myself wondering when all this change is going to translate into a truly better world, one with greater social justice, a better deal, instead of a raw deal, for labor, and less income inequality, rather than more. And where once I was fascinated and seduced by geek culture, now I am repelled by Silicon Valley arrogance and hubris.
From slowing down to get enough sleep, to rethinking the trend of genetically modifying crops, to the surprising revelation that millennials like actual, old-fashioned, antique books, there is plenty of pushback going on.
All of this leads me to offer a challenge to my fellow readers who have similar concerns stirring in their own souls.
If you suspect we were intended to live life at a slower pace, that we were intended to connect more, to relate to others more deeply, PLEASE take the time to pause and reflect on what it is you're missing.
Consider the possibility that there is a better response that simply surrendering to our fast-paced culture. That we can do more than just cling to our little rafts as society sweeps us away from civility and connectedness.
Wonder with me, friends, whether each of us might take intentional steps toward a more connected way of life. Imagine how we might work toward more bondedness in our communities and families.
I believe that although we all define and experience friendship differently, the principles of relationships are the same for all of us. And that we can adopt better social habits, that we can intentionally, and that we can start finding small ways to replace detachment with attachment.
It is possible to simplify and prioritize our lives to make space for people. And we are bound together in this task, to make our world -- particularly the workplaces and neighborhoods we share with each other -- richer and more connected places.
I realize to make such lofty, optimistic statements requires a lot of further discussion. We must of course get beyond just simply mourning the loss of the Good Old Days and figure out what practical actions might move us to a better, more satisfying and wholesome version of the days we live in now. But an acknowledgement, for today, that there is something we can do is a good place to start, I think. And I look forward to discussing this more here, as well as on my blog.