Misery Loves Company

Mark Raich sent me (and the Castrokids) an article entitled 7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable which is an interesting read, but presented in a manner which undermines the credibility of the Author.

The premise of the article is that the internet is making people miserable because they no longer have real friends. That we have so much technology now that most people don’t know how to interact and deal as human beings in true communities, not simply online assemblies of like-minded individuals.

The Twitter Effect

Digital interaction via most social networks is not as good for you as traditional one-on-one human interaction. Kathy Sierra has a great article on twitter that references some research by a Neruobiologist named Thomas Lewis in regards to virtual social networks:

UCSF neurobiologist Thomas Lewis claims that if we’re not careful, we can trick a part of our brain into thinking that we’re having a real social interaction—something crucial and ancient for human survival—when we actually aren’t. This leads to a stressful (but subconscious) cognitive dissonance, where we’re getting some of what the brain thinks it needs, but not enough to fill that whatever-ineffable-thing-is-scientists-still-haven’t-completely-nailed-but-might-be-smell.

So this leads us to faux interaction. But at the same time this isn’t completely bad. There are people who I don’t see on a regular basis due to geography that I interact with in the digital realm. When we do get together, we have a much broader shared experience. But this isn’t the norm.

The Assault on Reason

I’m reading The Assault on Reason right now by Al Gore and he goes through a long discussion early in the book in regards to the change in the American populous, starting in the 1960s, from print to television. This picture box now takes up 3.5 hours a day of the average American’s day. This also then ties into advertising, an industry which has found out that because of evolution, we react to a “rustling” in the bushes and if they can elicit this reaction every second or two, they can create a near hypnotic state. How many times have you clicked through TV and suddenly realized hours have gone by?

The Excessive Factors of Modern Life

At the same time you have a culture of selection developing. People only consume things that they absolutely want to consume, including personal interaction. In not having to consume things that are unwanted or not desirable, two things happen:

  1. The things we actually do want become less special, because we get them all the time, and
  2. we never learn to deal in a mature way about not getting those things.

This is also symptomatic of various other shifts since the 1960s: the average house size has almost doubled (from 1000 sq ft to 2000 sq ft, lest not forget the McMansions clocking in at 8000 sq ft). This allows children to not interact with their parents or other family members. Forget having lots of friends. People don’t talk to their families any more.

You have a lot of double income families or parents who don’t really want to be parents who utilize television and the internet as a sort of babysitter. Less human interaction with the most important people in your life: your parents. You come from them, and in most cases, you become them, or at least a mix of them..

Let’s add political correctness to the mix too. Don’t you dare offend anyone now. Really. I quote Fight Club. “You are not a beautiful flower. You are not special.”

And Entitlement. Not sure where this came along but I think I can blame MTV’s Cribs and shows of that ilk. Just because a rock star lives a certain way does not mean that you, young fast food attendant, should too. Your “blinged” out car? waste of money.

Basically you can point the blame anywhere, but it comes down to 1.) good parenting and 2.) good education, both of which are severely lacking in the modern American society.

I’m running out of juice in this London Starbucks, so I’ll have to just let this go at this.

  1. chris says:

    I wish I could prove to you that I had about the same discussion regarding excess with friends of mine, about a year ago.

    I'm pretty sure I'm taking the title of Derrida's "House of Cards" out of context, as it generally remonstrates reasoning and logic, as well as the intellectual and social culture of the western world.

    Yet, I feel the sentiment of the title dovetails with the feelings expressed by people growing up in an era of high technology who seem out of touch with what life was like without the digital and electronic gadgetry. To wit, as you mention, we don't learn how to cooperate beyond what our own niche requires us to do. Get up, get dressed, get in transportation, do work, come home.

    Hence, we actually truncate our development in our pursuit of convenience and simplicity. That, to me, is the "House of Cards".

    In Arch. terms, that's part of what deadly wrong with dead-end developments and boomburgs. Yeah, it's convenient, you'll turn a profit...in the meantime you never know your neighbors, nor your neighborhood, since there's never anything to do there except collect stuff.

    I think some designers are trying to find answers to these sentiments in terms of how buildings are designed, but I think it's much larger than all that.

  2. Mike Brown says:

    What's the full quote sequence? You are not a beautiful flower, you are not special, something about rotting earth?

  3. Meya says:

    Just as a side note, I am reading a book that clams that the insreace of shyness and social anxiety in North America can be related to the insreace of tech taking over for human interactions in day to day transactions like the ones you refer to but also to all the tech that allows you to more efficiently live your life but at the same time reduces all the daily contact with your neigbours. Even big deptment stores taking taking over for a few small stores where your contact is reduced from a few people to one person. As your interactions with people are reduced then your practise and confort levels are decreased.

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