Is Technology Killing Us?

102_0237Ross Douthat wrote recently in The New York Times, Sunday, May 19, 2013, about lonely people and the fact that the suicide rate for Americans 35 to 54 increased nearly 30% between 1999 and 2010. He quotes a Virginia sociologist, Brad Wilcox, who connects suicide and weakened social ties.

In my opinion, other factors may also be working against these men. Certainly, unemployment in a marginal economy has taken a toll. This is especially true for those who depend on materialism as a philosophy of life. White males have also lost employment positions as women enter the workforce and minorities have increased access to jobs.

Douthat quotes Judith Schulevitz who says that one in three Americans over 45 are chronically lonely, up from just one in five a decade ago. The Internet promises a virtual community to replace the real community, but it’s doubtful that it can replace warm-blooded friends as a source of support in a time of need.

In fact, the Internet may be contributing to this trend.

Megan McBride Kelly, in The Wall Street Journal, Sunday, May 18 – 19, 2013, reports that the average Facebook user has 142 friends. She reviews Aristotle’s definitions of friendship and first one is the need for love. She questions whether tracking people on Facebook leads to love. She guesses that at least 90% of Facebook friendships are those of utility and self-promotion, where we always put our best face forward. Computer games, the Internet and social networks can keep some people on a narcissistic high, it seems to me. These contacts are based on pleasure, but it is pleasure for ourselves and not for the other person.

It’s also easy to neglect authentic friendships when we are so caught up in technological self-pleasure. Aristotle talks of the ultimate form of friendship, which is virtuous, meaning concern for our friends sake — and not just for our own. Ms. Kelly reports that her father and grandfather always told her that the number of such true friends can be counted on one hand over the course of a lifetime.

When the going gets tough, and jobs are scarce,do these depressed folks have real friends and an authentic community  to fall back on?

Continue on my Psychology Today website . . . .

Easy Learning

As I queried in my recent book, “The Digital Pandemic, Reestablishing Face-to-Face Contact in the Electronic Age.” New Horizon Press:

“Maybe good learning is like making good wine. Remember the old saying: no wine before its time? What happens when we harvest the wine before it’s ready? It’s quicker and requires less patience on our part . . . and the first of the wine isn’t half bad – impressive, even. But the depth and complexity are missing. This is table wine that won’t improve over time. The most enjoyment is in the first sip. After that, it’s all downhill.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could plant grapes today and enjoy their superb flavor with our foods next week? Unfortunately, making wine and human learning both require patience and hard work. Even then, the results are not guaranteed.”

But now we’re told –– at least when it comes to human learning –– that all our previous notions are incorrect! Thanks to the digital revolution, not only will learning be quick –– it will be easy. So easy. Maybe too easy!!

Continue . . . . .

How Much is that Professor in the Window?

Remember Patti Page, the Tulsa vocalist who sang How Much is that Doggie in the Window ?  According to the Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, May 8, 2013, jobless professionals in Denmark are sitting in storefront windows for exposure and possible job offers. It’s a sad situation but seems to be helping people, including professors,  get jobs. It’s also hilarious because it copies Amsterdam’s red light district were prostitutes sit in store windows pointing out their specialties. I couldn’t help but think of that professor who gave me a bad time in college and how I might enjoy purchasing him by the hour just to boss him around a bit. Since he taught a course on the environment, I’d like him to take out my garbage, but fear that he will want to talk about it rather than do it.

How much is that Danish in the window?

Our media. Have they no decency?

I make an effort not to watch our local TV news or read our local newspaper, except for the sports section. The reason is that I object to being bombarded with images of poor people who have lost a loved one and who are asked to say a few words for the camera in the midst of great personal loss, such as an accident or shooting. These are usually people in poor circumstances and this journalistic narcissism is nothing more than slumming. Those who enjoy watching this intrusion are no better, as they reward news outlets by purchasing advertised products or services.

I think it shows why we need outside moral guidance for our behavior and values. If we just follow the profit motive, we are inclined toward sensationalism in order to sell newspapers or TV advertising. This behavior is horribly intrusive and unacceptable, and its coarseness, selfishness, and intrusiveness is damaging our society .

On May 16, 1861, Abraham Lincoln wrote to the parents of a young friend who died in battle .He said: “In the hope that it may be no intrusion upon the sacredness of your sorrow, I have ventured to address you this tribute  to the memory of my young friend, and your brave and early fallen child.”

Who could say it better?

Are American Films Slipping?

I was never a fan of foreign films. The people who watched them seem to be trying to make a statement rather than just enjoying old foreign movies. Now I’m finding that most of the good films I view on Netflix are indeed foreign — and not old. Many are French and some come from Germany, England, Denmark, Italy and so on.

These foreign films are just better than most American films. While America is capable of making marvelous films and does from time- to-time, Hollywood seems caught up in nudity, sex and violence – – not to mention techno – thrillers. While some of these scenes of sex and violence are appropriate, in many cases they seem like extra baggage. And many of these films sell well even though they are poorly made. Many of them lack good plotting, emotion, and heart. Maybe the foreign films don’t have  budgets to permit massive helicopter strikes and other expensive American film technologies.

I suspect the culprit is capitalism itself. I’m fairly conservative when it comes to economics but I know that publicly-held corporations need to show impressive returns on a quarterly basis. That may lead to appealing to the same people who enjoy superficial and mighty gross TV shows. I don’t want to sound snooty, but I like movies that have heart and that move me emotionally.

I recently saw the Intouchables, Mostly Martha, Cinema Paradiso and a number of other films that truly entertain. What’s the solution? I suppose it is capitalism itself and we can get a message to Hollywood by not spending our money on lousy movies. But if Hollywood is making money from these cheap flicks then things are not going to change. And because of their massive advertising campaigns, we’ll only hear about the clunkers. Meanwhile we must rely on word-of -mouth from friends to find good movies –foreign or American.

The only thing left to do is to continue to see good movies in theaters or through Netflix — and in many cases they will turn out to be foreign-made.



105_0564Today, Florida passed a law against driving and texting. When I wrote The Digital Pandemic, some folks said I wanted to to back to the horse and buggy days. I don’t (although one must pay a lot to ride in a buggy today) but we would have saved millions of lives if we knew of the need for seatbelts when Henry Ford first turned out the new-fangled technology called a horseless carriage.

So we need to evaluate and monitor the digital pandemic. Meanwhile, Japanese auto makers are including TV screens in the dashboards of new cars to allow drivers to watch their favorite TV shows while driving!

This shows the scrary side of unbridled capitalism combined with technology.