Friday, January 30, 2009

Death By Electronics

I recently returned from a week-long mountain sojourn. A blissful, relaxing week at a posh log cabin filled with friends, camaraderie, hot tub soaks, sightseeing, good food and drink and...all the electronic noise I could stand. So, on one hand, I've come back rested, relaxed and recharged. On the other hand, the next text message alert tone that goes off nearby may trigger a total meltdown.

Don't get me wrong. I ADORE this group of friends--think every one of them is a beautiful, socially conscious, smart, funny person. So if you're one of THOSE people reading this, don't take it personally, or even too seriously. But there were 13 of us, and about 13,000 gadgets. We had Wii, we had Guitar Hero, we had karaoke, we had a theater room and hundreds of movies, we had cell phones, IPhones, IPODs, game timers, laptops with video games going. We had intracabin social networking threads! So I had to ask myself (again), how much is too much connectivity? At what point do the portable communication suites stop being something we use and start being something that uses us?

I sat in my shop with a friend talking about this very subject not long ago. We were trying to get our brains around what has fueled the constant connectivity craze. I know I think and write about this a lot, but it confuses me in the same way the Vanity Press Phenomenon confuses me (everybody is publishing a book these days, but that's a subject for another post). My friend and I reached a somewhat uneasy conclusion--we believe it's...are you ready? Insecurity. Yep, the shifty-eyed monster. If I have 75 friends on Facebook who comment on my constantly updated status, then I must be important to them. If I get 42 text messages while I'm on the crapper, I'm loved. If I publish a blog and fourteen people take a minute out of their already electronically overloaded day to read it, I've said something that matters. Never mind that it imprints on their brains for about 1.2 seconds before they roll on to the next thing. I remember talking to a guy some years ago who said he'd put a network in his house so he and his wife could "talk to each other." At the time, that was really strange and funny to me. Today, it's pretty much the norm. I don't advocate going back to the dark ages before the Internet. I think it's generally done vastly more good than harm. Information availability, better world understanding, improved quality of life for millions--you name it. I just think electronic interaction is a poor substitute for the human touch and wonder what we as a society are losing because we're on a path to forget that.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stopping For Death

I was almost run over on the way to work this morning. I had pulled over to let a funeral procession pass and the person following too closely behind me was apparently attending his cell phone conversation more than his driving. He narrowly avoided ploughing into me as he swerved and jerked by, middle finger extended on his phone hand. He managed to drop the phone long enough to blow the horn a few hard times and gesticulate wildly before he passed out of sight.

Way back when I was first learning to drive, I was taught to stop for funeral processions, and I still do to this day, unless I'm on a road where I absolutely can't. Of those who still know about this old tradition, I'd guess that most don't practice it anymore, believing it belongs to another time or place. I understand this--certainly the speed of our lives has increased exponentially and the speed of our transit has, too. It's not always the smartest thing to do, or the safest. I went through a phase where I talked myself out of doing it for a few years, even when I was safely able. But I came back to it. It's not about whether I knew or respected the deceased as a person. It's not that I don't have a sense of urgency about where I go and how fast I get there now that I'm not in the military rat race anymore. I do, probably more so now than then. It's not that I've developed more patience than I once had. I can't claim a highminded embrace of all that binds us together. I lose patience with the indigent population of Petersburg at least twice a day. I see this as simply stopping for just a minute and recognizing that there passes someone who shared the earth with me--who loved and laughed and changed his little corner of the world in one way or another. I guess when it comes down to it, it's a nod to my own mortality, and a moment taken to reflect on how I can live a little bit better. Because even for those who can't stop for death, it WILL eventually stop for us.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cling To Your Guns and Racism Much?

A vocal minority of people in the Tri-Cities are LIVID. I mean, they are beside themselves. I haven't seen them this fired up since last year's property assessments came out. I've been reading tirades to the editor of the local paper for the past few days decrying Hopewell School Superintendent Winson Odom's decision to close his city's schools for Inauguration Day, in recognition of the "specifically historic" significance the day carries. The make-up day will be held on President's Day.
One woman wrote in to say that, IF she had children in the Hopewell schools, they would NOT be attending school on President's Day. She didn't say specifically, but I'm sure she'd home school on Inauguration Day. The curriculum? Revisionist History 101. She wanted to know why the Superintendent didn't "take away" Martin Luther King Jr Day instead, asking, "Do our former presidents not matter anymore?" She went on to say (and I'm quoting directly, because I don't want to put words in her mouth) that "Obviously, all the excitement is because Barack Obama won the presidential election based on the color of his skin and not the content of his character and that is the real reason why you've switched holidays." Another woman's brilliant repartee included this gem: "Martin Luther King was NOT a President! He was just a man 'with a dream!' But we are forced to honor him but we can not honor our past presidents! Why are we being forced to forget our history?" Sigh. So much idiocy, so little time.
I thought about writing a reasoned, measured rebuttal to the Editor. But really, what chance does mere logic have against such blind passion? These are the same folks who ARE NOT RACIST (some of their best friends are black), but who cannot accept that a black man, no matter how intelligent, well-spoken and astute, is the best qualified to run the country. These are the same folks who authored and forwarded vicious chain e-lies about Barack Obama's religious beliefs to try to prevent his election. These are the same folks who don't see Virginia's reluctant acceptance of the Martin Luther King holiday only after years of foot-dragging and only with the monicker Robert E. Lee tacked on to the end as anything except a generous compromise. These are the same folks who really don't understand at the most basic level that Martin Luther King was, in fact, just a man. Not a black man, but a MAN with a huge, all-encompassing dream who toiled, bled and died to help us realize our shared humanity. Barack Obama's inauguration is the culmination of the dream. Not just for black people, but for all of us. We all, as Maya Angelou said, "grew up a bit" with his election. Well, at least most of us did. Some sore losers are still throwing temper tantrums in the local paper.
I don't mean to downplay the significance of these displays of barely concealed racism by making them sound like the isolated petulance of a select few. It is both disheartening and infuriating to me that people can't come together and see that this is a huge milestone in our country's history. We are walking on the moon of brotherhood here, and some people are still worried somebody's going to take their share. How sad. It's a long road ahead for them and a long time coming for the rest of us.