There are two (polar opposite) views of modernity. There are the early adopters who froth and queue up for new and shiny gizmos and gewgaws and then there are the progress curmudgeons. These curmudgeons sit on their metaphorical porches and attribute the downfall of society to; ‘those dadgum moving picture shows.’ Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of these two opposing views. The early adopters aren’t a new concept (please don’t tell them that it would just kill them) people have been running to buy what’s being sold since the first wheel kiosk opened. It’s the progress curmudgeons that are far more fascinating. Nobody is born a progress curmudgeon. Every kid is intrigued by something newer, faster, and shinier. No, a curmudgeon must be created. They must find a time in history and stick with it. Any and all things that came after these glory days must not be trusted.
This is not an entirely irrational perspective; some things simply aren’t made as well as they once were. For instance clothes used to be made to last a lifetime, although who would want to wear the same clothes for their entire life alludes me. Cars were far less disposable, but they were also lethal (both for riders and for anyone in the car’s path.) Certainly items were easier to use once upon a time. Picking up the phone and asking the operator to connect you was easier than…pushing a speed dial button? Well a typewriter was certainly easier to use than a computer. You only need insert a ribbon (use lye to remove the ink from your fingers,) insert paper, reinsert paper after you realize the lye missed some spots and ink has leached onto the paper, insert paper again with carbon paper (use lye to remove carbon from fingers) commence typing, commence searching for white-out, miraculously finish letter, try and type address onto envelope, give up and handwrite envelope, find stamp, walk to mailbox, repeat. Fine, communication is easier but what about music. Don’t you miss records? You remember records don’t you? There were those paradoxically highly fragile yet extremely heavy items you had to lug around with you through life. They crackled and skipped and sounded nothing like the real thing.
I think we can all agree that progress is just that; progress. We don’t have to like it and we don’t have to adopt it, but we cannot argue with the fact that it is progress. No one wants to feel left behind or to have his/her rituals upended. But discounting progress, or worse imbuing progress with negative consequences is misguided. How many times have you heard people blaming modern movies and videos for increased violence (as if silent movies weren’t horrifically violent)? And what of this notion that social media is to blame for increased bullying. It’s not lax parenting, or the soul crushing experience of a Kindergarten graduation ceremony that leads to the self-esteem issue that is always at the root of bullying. Nope, it’s social media that is to blame. The same social media that allows for positive reinforcement that simply does not exist in any other domain of the real world with the exception of group therapy. Before the advent of (social media) Linkedin did anyone ever publicly endorse your skills? Whether it is a meaningful gesture or has any validity at all is beside the point. It is a public attaboy that simply did not exist in the past. Before we tweeted, did we publicly support other’s views or endeavors? Do we even remember a life before Facebook and the villages it’s created? When, beside a reunion (family or class) did we ever cheer accomplishments, offer sympathies and coo over baby pictures?
Expanding our sense of community is always a good thing. It reinforces our attachment and obligation to the larger world. Humans despite their many differences are at their core the same; they need to be connected to other people. It is not the gaming or chatting that encourages antisocial behavior; it’s the fact that people are using these outlets to avoid social behavior. In that sense the video game is no more detrimental than the comic book (which was also decried as the downfall of civilization.) The progress doesn’t create maladjusted people, it’s that maladjusted people still crave human interaction, simulated or not. Banning or demonizing the tangible is always more tempting than dealing with the elusive. The only way to reach troubled people is to reach out to troubled people. Blaming something we don’t care for or don’t understand is distracting and disingenuous. Social media, comic books, dime novels or pool do not create trouble. Troubled people are drawn to things that make them feel less alone.