Saturday, October 23, 2004

Abundant loneliness

I was in our local Sam's Club with my wife Friday night. It's a trip I don't take often, out of consideration for my sanity. The place is too big, with too many choices, too much stuff. Too much abundance; makes me feel guilty, somehow.

I am the primary cook in our house, which also makes me the primary grocery shopper. Here, too, I am assaulted with far too many options. How many different kinds of yogurt, choices of cereal, or selections of barbecue sauce does one nation really need?

It occurred to me a few years ago that ten people could walk into my grocery store, al with exactly the same grocery list: Apples, bagels, diet cola, cheese, coffee, hamburger, toilet bowl cleaner, and ice cream. It is more than possible that none of the ten would walk out with any single product in common. What about hamburger, you say? Well, you can get it in 6 different varieties (ground sirloin, chuck, etc.) and in patty form or tube form, or frozen or fresh......and that's simple, compared to the yogurt section, or the salsa choices.

Where I'm going with this is that it is a symptom of our culture where everyone can have everything just as they want it right now. Remember the old Burger King ad, "Have it your way, at Burger King?" I see it everywhere. At my gym, no one talks any more. They are plugged into their IPod's, listening to exactly the mix of songs they want---the heck with the entire CD. OR they are plugged in to the TV attached to their cardio machine watching whatever show they want...heaven forbid we should all have to watch the news, or Oprah, or a football game together.

With 1 gazillion channels, we can watch or listen to just who we want to, and worse, just who we agree with or who makes us comfortable.

And here's the secret.....if we all do our own thing, we do less and less together, we have fewer and fewer common experiences......and lose a bit of understanding of how other people act, think, believe, and feel.

Too many choices can isolate. Isolation can turn into iconoclasty, less willingness to listen, much less compromise.

I dunno. It just worries me.


DebPGHS said...

I share this worry. My teen-aged sons have learned to live with our one TV and discussing what we will watch together, but they feel different because they don't know anyone else with this experience. They often tell tales of trying to keep up with the latest "in" technology to be accepted at school, and I tell them to focus more on being who they are, learning to like themselves by being people they can respect, and the others will be attracted to them. I think they are starting to see the long term wisdom of this thinking as they experience the social roller coaster of what we used to call "keeping up with the Joneses." This "me first" mentality in our society is symptomatic of the bigger picture of social disintegration in general -- destabilization of institutions that promote social values. It's interesting to see the social movement to conservativism and faith as evidence that people seek such stabilizing influences in their lives, but we've been away from a common grounding in core values so long, it's frightening to think of the potential power such groups can have over individuals if not kept in check. We need to keep our voices strong and vigilant.

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