I’ve been trying to figure out how to follow my last post; to say the least, it got significantly more of a response than I had anticipated.
Given that that post discussed where we are now, the logical follow-up would be to discuss how we got there.
I suppose it all started with the invention of air-conditioning.
And yes, I’m being serious when I say that. It’s actually a commonly held opinion in some circles, that the invention of air conditioning was almost directly responsible for the death of “the neighborhood”. Once we no longer had to go outside to get fresh air during the summer, the level of intimacy between neighbors immediately plummeted. I’ll admit, I only know a handful of my neighbors, and we all live in the same building. I know the ones that live on my floor, and that’s about it.
Once we had the ability to wall ourselves off from our neighbors, we started exercising it with a vengeance. Of course, just having the ability isn’t enough; other factors pushed us indoors and away from each other.
Factors like the media.
Tell me, do you think you’re safer today than people were thirty years ago? How about forty years ago? Fifty?
I’d wager that most people in America would tell you that they considered themselves substantially less safe than people were even a few decades ago.
Those people would be wrong.
The murder rate today is pretty much the same as the murder rate in 1960. We had a spike there from the mid 70s to the mid 90s, but today? Not bad at all, relatively speaking. In 1980 the murder rate per-capita was over twice what it is today. Functionally every type of violent crime was actually more prevalent thirty years ago than it is today.
And yet my parents let me play outside, unsupervised.
It’s not that the world has actually become more dangerous, it’s that we’ve come to perceive it to be so. One could argue that we’ve almost been forced to change our perceptions.
After all, “if it bleeds, it leads.”
The media has a vested interest in keeping people watching the television. Towards that end, they’ll put on the stories that people find most interesting, the stories that people believe affect them personally, whether they do or not.
The truth, such as it is, is that you’re safer today than you have been in decades. The kids growing up today are significantly safer than I was at their age, and while we could argue that that is in part due to parents being more aware of the dangers out there, realistically speaking it was never that dangerous.
We were just told that it was. And is. And will be, world without end. I’m fairly certain that if there were three humans left: one man, one woman, and one reporter, the reporter would be telling the other two how dangerous the opposite sex is.
Who cares about the survival of the species when there are ratings at stake.
And now, of course, we have the internet. Just as the 24-hour news networks undermined the news programs of bygone years, today they themselves are dying the death of a thousand cuts at the hands of independent bloggers, tweeters, would-be investigative journalists and wannabe reporters, few of whom apparently feel any particular need to research their “stories” beyond the most superficial level, and don’t especially care about potential consequences so long as it gets them more page hits.
Meet the new media, same as the old media.
And yes, I do recognize the potential hypocrisy in that statement, given where and how I’m making it. I do like to think, however, that if I’ve put forth one idea on this blog, albeit indirectly, it’s stressing the importance of critical thinking.
The internet lets us socialize without leaving our homes. It lets us buy goods without leaving our homes. It lets us buy homes without leaving our homes. There’s increasing pressure to allow people to use the internet work from their homes, to a more ubiquitous degree than is seen currently.
I can imagine a future where we all live in very comfortable little boxes where we never have to see, talk to, or otherwise directly interact with another human being.
Now, there are folks out there who argue that online communities are still communities, that they form lasting bonds with people whom they’ve never met, whose real names they’ll never know. And to an extent, that’s true; many online communities, particularly those surrounding games, can create a definite sense of social bonding.
It is, however, inherently shallow. Without a face to put to the name, a real face and a real name, the people you’re interacting with are reduced to an abstract. For some people, that’s enough; they apply the same social contract that they apply in their real life to their online interactions.
For a lot of people, however, they don’t see the point. With an attitude that borders on solipsism, they treat those avatars simply as that; avatars, without ever recognizing that there’s an actual person on the other end of the wire.
And don’t even get me started on Anonymous. That’s a rant for a different day.
Here we are.
Between a combination of ability, paranoia, laziness and greed, we’ve been steadily eroding the societal bonds that hold us together. Tearing the common ground into our own individual plots, then walling them off, a little higher every year.
It’s a dangerous business, going out your door.