Wednesday, January 14, 2015

We all change, and we all remain ourselves

The background music was pleasant in the Chinese restaurant I visited recently. As I mused the decades old question of whether Jello has survived in large part because of the dessert tray at Chinese restaurants, I suddenly tuned in on the lyrics of the music so sweetly playing. The two singers were warbling in gentle harmony about how deeply they hated one another, and some four-letter words were used. I was one of only a few eating alone, and I doubt anyone else noticed. I just happened to tune in, because I hadn't been really listening, either. The song segued into another really pretty song. I returned to my Jello squares.

I'm not horrified, I'm commenting: not so many years ago, the lyrics would not have been sung in a family restaurant. Technology is part of the change, because music is accepted as something that is always there today. We notice silence, but not the musical background. In my lifetime, live music led to records, then to tapes, then to intercoms in stores and everywhere. Few of us perform. All of us are surrounded by some kind of music continuously.

What is accepted has changed dramatically, partly due to the old television. The time when adult entertainment and family entertainment were separate arenas has blurred despite the attempts at movie ratings. We continue to try to have some basic laws and rules to make the general community more pleasant and healthy for our children. A lot of rules, customs and laws have changed, and the music in the restaurant was just one incident. The computer, then Wi-Fi and cell phones, have made some huge differences. I think we are on the threshold of some more that will make this year, these times, look archaic in a very few years. Human society will be adapting and fitting these new discoveries into our everyday lives. How will it go?

The enforced communality in a growing, enormous population has been a factor in professionals debating whether being an introvert, or having symptoms of the same, ought to be included in the psychologist's diagnostic manual as a disorder needing treatment. Extroverts thrive on people around them. Is that the healthiest life? More people in the United States live alone today than ever before. They may communicate on social media or play computer games, but they may not spend much face time interacting with other people. So the experts debate. It is indeed a world that could not have existed before.

Boundaries are becoming a skill less taught, it seems to me. Many of these boundaries deal with families, where boundaries have always been iffy. But I have read a lot of articles and books on parenting becoming more about pleasing the child, teaching fewer consequences, and drawing out dependence on parents longer and longer. I know, working with kids as I do every week, that children in my state are being "taught to the test"--being taught the answers they are expected to regurgitate. When I ask for conclusions on how one piece of information links logically to something else, I am stunned that many can't make the connection. They haven't been taught to think or surmise. So the parents, I, and other adults, try to do some of this in extracurricular activities. It largely works. Over time.

An older woman I know has convinced her grown children and their children to have a weekly family meal with her. She insists that everyone leave their cell phones at the door. Her family, she says, has had difficulty doing that. That rather surprises me since my own family simply ignores phones during a meal unless someone is on-call. If not business, however, the person disengages quickly and firmly. It CAN be done. The fault, as I say, is not technology but ourselves.

Funny. When a pedophile downloads child porn on his computer, we don't blame technology. We blame him. Or her. But when someone calls us during a meal, and we disrupt the meal to talk,it's technology's fault. Huh.

It is true I don't have a jillion people to talk to, but I wonder frequently who all these people are talking to as they walk along, one arm bent as they hold a phone to their ear. And when they shop doing that, are they as efficient? Or is the task of shopping so low-key that it can be accomplished without difficulty as they talk? Are they ever alone? Do they even notice the larger world they live in? or do they live only within the perimeter of their city neighborhood? Do they ever see the stars? Humans need to see stars. Stars are a heavy lesson, if we will learn, that we are not so big and important, and our planet, big to us, is only a speck in the overall picture.

Gives me perspective.

People argue about climate change. The oil and gas people go on as if their product will never end. Society changes almost everywhere. We live here, and society is changing a lot. I change too.

But however I change, and whatever I do, it is not the fault, probably not even the product, of technology.

It is on me.

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