Our Changing Culture: Food for thought

November 30, 2009

So, I got to go home for Thanksgiving this past week.  And it was lovely.  I ate pie for every meal.  Spent time with family and friends.  Saw both of my grampas.  Played a little harp, piano, football, basketball, and chess.  I am so overwhelmed and thankful.

(Hopefully, by now, you will realize that I do not intend this blog post to be sarcastic or humerous. Yes, it shall be boring… but not if you participate.:)  You’ll see what I mean–no, i won’t do the “list the things you’re thankful for”… wait, did you want me to?).

I got to visit my grampa who has cancer this past Saturday.  In a weird way, this illness has brought me closer to him.  I’m disappointed in myself for not taking as much initiative before he was diagnosed, but again, as always in my life, I have received grace.   In this case, more time.

So, about my grampa, we always have amazing conversations about life, politics, people, gardening, wood-working, music, you name it.  Saturday’s topic was our changing culture.   There are so many theories and so many predictions and hopes and fears in regards to our country’s future, but it was nice getting the perspective of someone who has lived through and observed so many changes.  In that respect, as in many, he has more wisdom than I.

We don’t always agree (initially, though I find he typically has a much more thought-out/lived-out position than I :), but we agreed on one thing immediately.  Our way of life is changing.  Changing is vague.  More specifically, we are moving/have moved from a culture of community and interdependence to a (false) sense of community and independence–dare I say, isolation? loneliness?  Now, this is tricky because in many ways, we feel more connected to people than ever.  We have our iphones that allow us to access our email/twitter/facebook accounts at anytime in addition to receiving phone calls and text messages.   We have these communication devices with us all of the time.  I remember back 10 years ago (even less) when you had to call someone on the home phone and wait for them to respond to you.  For some reason, I was never anxious if they didn’t.  Now, it seems if I call someone on his/her cell phone and I don’t get a response by a certain time, I get nervous.  What if so-and-so’s angry with me?  What if something happened?  I have to say, for having communication at the touch of a button, our anxiety (I should just say MY… sorry to generalize it to you all!) doesn’t seem  to be decreasing any.

In addition to that, the communications that are being had are not directly with people.  They are with/through electronic devices.   Clearly (unless you are skyping/video calling), there is no eye contact, no tone of voice, no facial expression.  Our communication is down to merely words.  Words which can be, and many times are, taken completely the wrong way.   Additionally, my grampa spoke of a time (which I kind of remember living this way as a child), where neighbors met each other.  Talked to each other.  Times when the men in the neighborhood gathered to play horseshoes or poker or basketball.  People knew their neighbors.  They relied on them.  They helped them.  Now, we don’t need them cause our entire fam/friend system is carried around in our pocket, simply a text or phone call–button push–away.  Question: Are these devices truly improving communication?  Is more communication necessarily better?  (Notice:  I didn’t even mention the cheapness of the communications–how easy it is to push a button and send a nasty email vs. having a nasty conversation or mailing a nasty letter or the plethora of miscommunications that happen b/c of the lack of tone… you all know this.)

Speaking of more communication, my gramma mentioned how mothers/parents nowadays call or text their children all of the time to make sure that they are okay.  I don’t think that’s a result of bad parents.  I bet if I were a mom (yes, we’ve covered this, it’s a very good thing that I am not… ha ha), I’d probably text all the time too.  How is the whole natural parent-child separation and independence thing supposed to happen in the age of technology?  And when you think of it, how much is that replacing actual parenting?  How much parenting happens by text, that could and possibly should, happen face to face in the living room on the couch/rocking chair?  Maybe even with a hug?  Or a good cry?

Here’s what’s funny about this entire thing.  We all know this.  And we all kinda think it’s maybe not good, but we either don’t want to admit it, or don’t really think it’s that bad afterall.  I’m starting to think that it possibly is “that bad.”

I was reading a book by CS Lewis the other day called Mere Christianity.  And I love the book.  And whether or not you would consider yourself a Christian, I think it’s an excellent read.  At one point in the book, he starts talking about the decisions you make affect your heart, your soul, your mind.  The idea that these parts of you are not static entities, but constantly moving in a certain direction.  In his opinion (and I seem to agree), moving either closer to or further away from the creature you (were) intended to be.  One of a heavenly sort–not necessarily in appearance/action–please don’t misunderstand me.  But a creature full of joy, peace, love, kindness.  A creature that would naturally react to life in those ways, no matter what is going down.  (At a different part of the book, Lewis makes the argument that you actually can see a person’s character more clearly when they are taken off-guard by difficult or unpleasant events.  Interesting thought… really!)  The other creature is of a hellish sort.  I’m not talking of one consumed by external things like pornography, alcoholism, or gossip, but one who is internally full of rage, hatred, fear, and LONELINESS, no matter what shows on the outside.  And those characteristics to their extremist points (increasing over infinity) is what Lewis would consider hell.  Again, I think I agree.  And that’s a terrifying thought.

Loneliness, specifically, seems to be the biggest problem with this new(ish) wave of communication.  We are not spending time with people, but with things–computers, phones, etc.  The scariest thing is that we think that we are spending time with people.  Are we?  Are we increasing in peace, love, joy, etc. as a community?  Do we even really have human communities?

So, here’s the participation part.  Let’s work together to change our culture.

“Yes, Elizabeth, that’s nice.  But you have a facebook, blog, twitter, myspace, cell phone, etc. too!”

“Dear friend, I know.   I recognize change needs to happen on my end for sure.  But what does that look like?  Does that mean getting rid of those parts of life?  What other changes could/should I/we make?  How can I/we use this new technology without losing human interaction?

Or… am I off my rocker?  The answer to that question is quite possibly a resounding yes!

If not, if true change needs to take place, let’s visualize together what our communities COULD/SHOULD look like and work towards that.  Together.  As a community.  As people moving away from loneliness towards togetherness.  No matter how initially uncomfortable.

“I’m trading comfort for human life.  And that’s not just murder, that’s suicide.”  –Derek Webb

Let’s not do that.

Much love and a desire for true community to you all!

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7 Responses to “Our Changing Culture: Food for thought”

  1. Andrea said

    I have some immediate reactions, but I want to sit on them for a little while and think about it. So I’ll get back to ya!

  2. Elizabeth Schrader said

    Thanks! I really wanted this to kinda start a dialogue. If nothing else, I just need people to double check me–you know, a little accountability for one’s mind. 🙂

  3. Andrea said

    Okay. Here goes.

    Yesterday (before I read your blog) I was watching a commercial and it was advertising a phone. I won’t go into all the details, but how it ended was some guy saying “and you can do all these things without even making a phone call…”

    It seemed a little Fahrenheit 451 to me. Like, I can order flowers and make dinner reservations without talking to anybody? But yet doing these things while still using a device (phone) that was specifically designed for talking to people. It didn’t sit well with me.

    I do feel like our society is going towards isolation. And i don’t know about you, but it seems the more I’m alone, the more time I have to think about myself. And the more time I have to think about myself, the more lonely and depressed I get.

    On the flip side, when I’m participating in a real community, I’m given the opportunity to love others, receive love, grow, love, and build real relationships with people. Not just ‘networking’.

    And all of these new “convenience” gadgets that we have are not helping. But I do think it’s important to be able to connect with our culture. And I’ve already experienced how God still works through this stuff…

    So I don’t know if I answered your questions. I might respond more later, but this is all I’ve got for now.

    Love ya!

  4. Elizabeth Schrader said

    Hey. Yeah. I agree with all of those ideas.
    Re: being alone–I think that it’s so important to be able to be alone, but it’s become less natural for us to know how to do so with cell phones and stuff. I think that learning how to be alone, truly alone, is an important skill. And I also think it will improve our ability to be able to be WITH people and enjoy their company.
    So often it seems that it’s more difficult to be in the present, in the community of people you are with, when you have access to everyone else, supposedly at any time, right in your pocket.
    Also, I want to be careful, like you said, not to blame the technology. That is not in itself bad. I just think there are good ways to use it–that clearly fall outside of our natural, human tendencies.
    I guess, I’m not looking for any new rules/regulations/things to constantly fail at doing, but maybe some thoughts, ideas, ways to be creatively stewarding these gifts given us.
    (And thanks, sis, for dialoguing (dialoging? how do you spell that?) with me… even if you are the only one 🙂

  5. Becca said

    Ok, I’ll chime in here. I’ll just say I completely agree with you. It’s why I boycotted texting for so long, however, I see how it is useful sometimes. I wrestle with being able to use the technology we have in a good and healthy way. It’s why I don’t have a facebook account, but am really considering it now. I would love to be able to see the pics of my niece and nephew- but I’m afraid I’ll be tempted to be some crazy lurker spending time looking at things that will make me make judgements about people, or be thinking about people who I don’t really know, is that good or bad? It would be my fault though, not the technologies fault. I find myself naturally wanting to fight it- and go back to old times. I just think that there has to be a new way of looking at it all and realizing it can be a tool for improving comm. between people. We don’t have a tv, and I don’t think I’m missing out on that one. It started out as a good thing for Sam and I. But now the computer has replaced it completely. I guess I don’t have answers or opinions, I want to be able to participate in our current culture in a healthy way. Hmm, I have more thoughts- maybe this is when I realize I should CALL you!!

    • Elizabeth Schrader said

      Hey Bec,
      I hear ya about the “crazy lurker” tendency. I think all of us have it–which is why facebook is such a popular thing. It can be so unhealthy to do that. I think, like everything in life, our lurking/stalking/obsessive habits are just a reflection of things going on inside. Which, I guess is the biggest problem and possibly suggests a new question: Are we hoping to impact just the culture or the hearts behind the culture? Are those separate things?
      And yes, my dear, you should call me. Or maybe I can give you a call? 🙂

  6. Patricia said

    Well said! But I won’t comment much because now I’m thinking I should just meet up for coffee with you for an eye to eye chat!

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