"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness."
With a nod to Charles Dickens, many of us may believe his famous opening of A Tale of Two Cities is an apt description of today's world.
Things we thought we could count on seem to be on shaky ground. The way people, governments, and technology interact with each other seems to be shifting beneath our feet. The rules of the game have changed.
I agree, but with one important qualifier: every time in history is a combination of wisdom and foolishness, threat and calm, stupidity, and brilliance. In the middle of the chaos and upending of longtime standards, I offer another quote as a reason to be optimistic: "this too shall pass."
That said, what are these "norms" I am referring to, some that we should reassess. What seems to be common wisdom, but maybe it isn't so?
1) No one makes phone calls anymore. Texting is quicker and easier. For many of us, texting has replaced making or receiving phone calls. Maybe it is because of all the spam calls we are receiving, or maybe just another step into a very private world, but calling someone is becoming increasingly rare.
Almost 60 million robocalls were made to Americans last year. The "Do Not Call List" has been a joke almost since its inception in 2003. Technology has allowed spammers to call your phone and appear to be from a number close to yours.
Even worse, many now go directly to voice mail without ever giving you the chance to disconnect, thereby forcing you to check and delete the message. Sure, there are phone apps that help, but answering a phone is a risky business. That is part of why texting is more popular. Also, sending a text forces someone to be more concise in what they want to say.
Unfortunately, I suggest texting often harms communication rather than helps. It is very easy to misinterpret what appears on the smartphone screen. Words written in haste or anger can cause lasting damage. Sometimes I find I have to exchange multiple messages with someone just to ensure clarity. A voice call would be much quicker and eliminate all the back-and-forth.
Our Covid experience has helped us understand the importance of person-to-person communication. Being kept away from friends and family for month-after-month-after-month has sent many of us back to an actual phone (or Zoom) call. We long to hear the sound of a voice other than our own. We need to share and get or give affirmation. We long to share with another human, even if it is just electronically.
When this is finally over, my personal hope is we will have rediscovered the joy and importance of speaking, rather than just texting. Our voices can convey feelings, emotions, and preciseness. Texts can not.
2) Get your news and information from services that think the way you do. Few will argue that too many of us are stuck in a closed loop. We find confirmation and validation by watching news channels, reading web sites, or listening to talk radio shows and podcasts that reflect our viewpoints. This behavior is physiologically satisfying; we are not alone in how we see things.
It is also behavior that makes integration into the real world much more difficult. When you confront an idea that varies from yours, the natural reaction is to reject it. After all, your usual sources pat you on the back. The one that presents an alternate interpretation must be wrong.
I suggest that approach to knowledge, opinion, and dare I say, truth, is a large part of our society's problem at the moment. Too many of us are incapable of acknowledging that we may not have all the answers or that others may have a valid point to consider.
Confirming my old guy status, I remember when there were just three TV networks who went to great lengths to play things right down the middle. If a story presented a liberal view, the news programs were careful to balance the presentation. Of course, they didn't have to fill 24 hours a day with content, which may be part of the problem.
As a society, and frankly, as better informed citizens, may I suggest we all broaden our informational input. It is important to know what others are seeing, hearing and learning. And, every once in a while, you may decide the idea or belief you hold so dear needs to be reexamined.
3) Technological Progress is good for you. Not always. Planned obsolesce is particularly insidious in this area of our lives. We are expected to upgrade to a new smartphone at least every two years. Most suppliers stop providing updates to a phone's operating system after a few years to encourage that behavior.
Recently, I was notified by Google that the Android system on my 4-year-old phone would not work for many Internet searches after next fall. Since my phone cannot be updated to the operating system required, I will find myself forced to replace it, whether I want to or not.
Betty's printer was set up with the manufacturer's instant ink replacement program when she bought it four years ago. Once we decided that letting HP tap into our home wireless network to check on our ink usage was just a bit too intrusive for our tastes, the fun began.
Trying to delete the changes in the printer's ROM to stop the company from invading our privacy became a months-long battle of phone calls, factory resets and using an Ethernet cable instead of WiFi to hook up the printer. Still, the machine asks us to sign in to our (non-existent) account every time it is powered on.
I am not a Luddite. I love what technology allows me to do. I enjoy its benefits....when they benefit me. What irks me is when a machine, device, or company tries to force my hand.
4) Walls make better neighbors. While lots of talk and emotion has centered on the barrier between the U.S. and our southern neighbor, that is not really the wall I am referring to, although that applies, too. I use "wall" as a metaphor for the barrier many of us erect to keep others away.Where I live, walls around every suburban home are so common that finding a neighborhood without them seems odd. Those beige-colored walls allow us to drive into our garage, put down the door, and step into our home without encountering anyone else. We spend time in our walled-in backyard, isolated from even the people who live on either side of us. Knowing their names would be uncommon for most of us. Front porches? Not here.
If the discord of the last several years has proven anything (and it has proven quite a lot), it is important to maintain a dialogue between people. It is the absolute necessity of having some common ground between us and others to allow things as essential as virus control, economic progress, and a functioning country.
We have become a nation of walls, literal and figurative, between groups of people, large and small, emphasizing the differences, not the similarities between us. And, how's that working out for us?
Society must have some shared beliefs, expectations, goals, and ways of living, or it shatters into factions constantly at war, usually figuratively but not always. Unfortunately, some of those points of agreement actually pull us apart.
I am interested in your thoughts on these (and other) ways we look at what is normal and what may need to be adjusted or abandoned as 2021 looms on the horizon.