Saturday, February 12, 2005

Collapse



As I read Collapse by Jared Diamond I am struck by the departure from long-standing values in a very short period of time. Technology brings about fundamental shifts in our culture. It impacts our communication (frequency, quality), our leisure (TV, Video games, music, multi-media), and our work. These in turn impact our relationships with other people. For example instead of coming home after work and spending time reading or talking we often drop in front of the TV – something that is by nature an isolating activity.

Technology also impacts our values. Children have access to violence, hate, and sex at a much younger age. Not long ago this was somewhat regulated by federal communications authorities that would filter or sensor content considered inappropriate for the public based on purportedly national values. We can clearly see that these values have become more liberal over the past decades. This liberalization does not stand on its own. The availability of multiple media types from magazines to TV to movies has greatly influenced it. It is in a capitalist society’s best interest to liberalize media as this in turn enables new business opportunities resulting in the financial gain that is its fundamental raison d’ĂȘtre. If you doubt this just consider the fact that for our economic system to be considered healthy it has to grow year over year, not in a linear but an exponential fashion. I’ll discuss this elsewhere because it is clearly an unsustainable model – nothing in the universe can sustain infinite growth. All systems stabilise either through crashes (Dot-Com bust) or through recessions / depressions.

There is yet another way that technology, tightly coupled with our economic model, influences our values. The quest for more. Early on in his book Collapse Diamond describes in detail the change in Montana’s environmental, economic, and social structures over a number of decades. He says,
“People used to expect no more of a farm than to feed themselves…”

When John Cook was growing up on a farm with his parents, “At dinnertime my mother was satisfied to go to the Orchard for asparagus, and as a boy I was satisfied for fun to go hunting and fishing. Now kids expect fast food and HBO; If their parents don’t provide that they feel deprived compared to their peers. In my day, a young adult expected to be poor for the next 20 years, and only thereafter, if you were lucky, might you end up more comfortable. Now, young adults expect to be comfortable early; a kids first questions about a job are, ‘what are the pay, the hours and the vacations?’
Technology; faster and more accessible travel, things to do with our time, demands more and more of our attention. Keeping up and doing what our colleagues at work or friends at school are doing takes up more and more of our time and financial resources. It is only recently that we have the leisure time we do. The farmer who was describing how he sometimes, at age 80, has to work from 3 a.m. to 10 p.m. is worried that his children won’t want to farm for that reason. Should they want to farm when easier, ‘less back-breaking’ work is available? Perhaps not. The point in this examination is not that we should return to “The Good ‘Ol Days” at all. There has been a shift in our socio-economic dynamic. We do not need to work long hours to earn a living. There is lots of time for leisure activities. The question I put to you and the reflection I ask of you is centered around how we are spending this newly acquired free time. Is a pure for-pleasure pursuit a valid, socially and personally beneficial, way to spend it?

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