Tag Archives: end of the world

Signs of the times

Aside from finding out there’s nothing really wrong with you, the best thing about going to the doctor is you get a chance to read the kinds of magazines you’d love to subscribe to, if only to put them on your own coffee table to look like you’re an intellectual. On a recent dental trip, I had the privilege to indulge myself in Archeology Magazine. It brought back memories of when I was a child and wanted to be an archeologist. It was a short-lived aspiration. As soon as I learned those folks often lived for months on end in tents with no “real” toilet, I moved on to another career goal.

One of the reasons why I still enjoy the study of archeology is because of the way modern historians interpret artifacts, texts and even graffiti on ruins to learn about a society. For example, there is plenty of graffiti in the ruins of Pompeii to suggest that not only were the inhabitants there on the lascivious side, they enjoyed their drink and defecated just about anywhere.

I don’t remember reading anything on how archeologists interpreted road signs in ancient Rome, but on a recent trip, I couldn’t help but wonder what post-apocalyptic historians might deduce from our street signs of today.

For example, there is a street sign near my neighborhood that says: Opposing traffic has extended green. I think I almost ran the red light there a few times before I figured out what it meant. What will historians think it means? Will they wonder if we met up at that intersection to have pro vs con debates and the opposing teem gets a longer time on the grassy area next to it to speak?

After seeing this sign, will they think we’re a careless lot:

I rather think someone in the factory got it wrong. Shouldn’t it be Done More Drinking Street? Will historians think the sign maker was drunk when he made it?

Or, will they think the deer were once literate when they stumble upon these signs:

There were all sorts of those as we drove through up-state New York. Sometimes the deer crossing would be for the next 3 miles at others for the next 10. How do the deer know how large their cross walk is? Do they get in trouble if they cross before the sign? If it says Deer Crossing Next 1 mile, do deer gangs challenge new members to walk across at 1.1 mile?

My favorite sign of all times is one we saw in a window:

Which, if I were an historian stumbling upon this amidst the ruins of our culture, I would shake my head in awe over that fact that we knew just how messed up we were.

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I think the bad side of technology will do us good.

I love the New York Times. I really do. I don’t read it on a regular basis, in fact I don’t read it at all. My father-in-law does, from front page to the last, and he regularly emails me links to articles that he thinks I’d be interested in. And usually he’s right. Lately, many of the articles have been dealing with the effects of technology on our minds and hence our relationships.

It all started with an Op Ed piece by Steven Pinker. He posited that the burgeoning brew-ha-ha over how technology is short circuiting our brains is a bunch of fluff (only he says it with more mature words and scientific techno-babble). He set off a small maelstrom of letters to the editor by people upset over what they perceive as the downfall of intercommunications because we’re all de-evolving into a Twittering species. They fear humans will lose their ability to fully connect, to be social beings, and to develop fully-functioning interpersonal relationships.

It makes for interesting reading. I always find it fascinating when people find yet another reason why we’re all going to hell in a hand basket. I’ve never found one of those reasons or theories to hold water at the level of drama and fear the discoverers hope to engender. The thing is, it seems to me that just about everything goes in cycles.

Remember when malls started popping up all over the place? There were people (anti-mallites?) who hated them and said that they were the beginning of the downfall of the current western civilization. They said we’d never spend time outside again. Our children would grow up without the benefit of sunshine. That it would only lead to the devaluation of natural and green spaces. I didn’t quite believe it. I figured we’d get tired of being inside all the time and eventually would start building old-fashioned shopping centers with open spaces, prizing our trees and grass. And, lo, we have. I’ve been to them in Florida, Texas and here in NJ. I’m sure they’re just about everywhere now.

And I’m sure one day, we’ll be tired of dealing with the rain and snow and want only in-door facilities. Let’s face it, we’re never happy for long.

Which is why I think the fears of how the current trends in social media are destroying our interpersonal communication skills are all for naught. I believe all the new avenues of communicating via a phone, computer, iPad, etc. is fascinating to most people for a while, but then they’ll want the old-fashioned face-to-face chumminess of their past soon enough.

But even if I’m wrong, I’m still not concerned. I know, if indeed it is a sign that we’re headed toward an intellectual decline, not everyone will be going down with the ship. Throughout history there are always survivors of technical revolutions, right? So the way I see it, the people who will be bred out of existence because they’ve lost the ability to communicate in ways that require more than 140 characters, might just leave us with people who have something of substance to say. People who can only talk in the bullet points of a PowerPoint presentation, are not exactly my kind of people, so I doubt I’ll miss them. And people who think they really need to take the time to update their FaceBook status with things like “I woke up this morning” or “I’m bored on the train right now” will probably not be missed by anyone. If those people are left unable to breed, is that really a bad thing? As long as we’re able to keep the vowels in our alphabet, I’m sure the rest of us will be just fine.

So technology, bring on the brain damaging effects. Perhaps the herd needs a little thinning.

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It’s the End of the World As We Know It

Ok, if the title of this post didn’t get the song stuck in your head (as it is in mine), then please go here, listen to it and then finish reading. I don’t like to suffer alone.

Well, then, welcome back.

If the pollen count wasn’t so high, I’d be outside painting my sandwich sign-board and humming along with R.E.M. “It’s the end of the world as we know it . . . it’s the end of the world as we know it . . . it’s the end of the world as we know it . . . I feel fine . . .” And how do I know it’s the end, you ask?

Because the Boy Scouts are now offering merit badges for Video Gaming. Honest and true. Granted, they say they’re doing it to teach responsibility and good sportsmanship. And perhaps that’s true. But I can’t help but think it’s because they’ve given up. The world has just sunk too far for even the ever optimistic and capable to be hopeful.

Regardless of how you feel about the Boy Scouts, we have all always taken for granted that if the world were about to be destroyed, a Boy Scout-like person would be there to save the day. We might be snarky about them. We might make fun of their Park-Ranger-from-Yogi-Bear-styled uniforms. We might joke about knot-tying badges. But, underneath the sarcasm there remained the security and knowledge that they could save us in great times of dire need.

Remember reading Alas Babylon! in high school? Remember that feeling during the Cold War when you finally understood that everything as we knew it could be destroyed within a couple of hours? Well, think a little harder now and reflect on who it was that could save us all. It was the people who could build shelters, fish, start a fire without lighters or charcoal bricks even. And who else but the Boy Scouts can we count on to do that?

Now then, if they are reduced to giving badges for video gaming, what could that mean? Does it mean they’ve given up hope that there’s nothing they can do to save us now? That we’re so f*cked it doesn’t matter if they know how to fish without a commercial rod? Did they just throw up their hands and say, “aw, to hell with it. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”?

Or am I reading too much into it?

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Midlife ain’t so bad

It may be too early to say this, but I think my generation may have discovered the preventative cure for mid-life crises.  I say this because I’m surrounded by people in their forties who, despite the fact that they’re living in a country at war during an economic downturn, are just fine with their lives.  I don’t know of one man with a jones for a new, hot red sports car, or who just got his ear pierced, or who is ready to leave his wife for the first sweet young thing to look his way.  Likewise, I don’t know of one single woman who is ready to follow-up with her ogling of the bag boys at Whole Foods, who is designing the perfect first tattoo, or who is ready to leave her husband for another female.

So why are we so emotionally stable with our age?  I believe it’s because we’re all a little surprised we’re still alive and kicking. 

Just about everyone in my generation grew up expecting die sometime shortly after their 30th birthday. They may never have thought about it consciously, though many of us did, but I can guarantee you the thought was always percolating in a hidden recess of our brains at all times.  It started in Kindergarten when we learned how to prepare for fire, tornadoes and Cold War bombs whose existence demanded we die.  (Am I the only one who wondered, while curled in fetal position on the floor during a bomb raid drill, why they didn’t just build everything out of the same metal and wood that they made the desks we had to cower under?) The follow up began when we started watching TV.  News coverage proved the previous generation’s motto of Sex, Drugs & Rock-and-Roll was really warning us of new causes for our natural end.  We watched, spellbound, as the footage of dead-via-over-dose celebrities, suffering AIDS patients, and the horror of being trampled to death at a Who concert streamed before us.  Religion didn’t offer much comfort.  All the Southern Baptists in my geographical area were convinced the world would end in 1980 because some kid born somewhere had some mark on him and there was some building that symbolized some beast that rose out of some sea.  After they were proved wrong, they were replaced by New Agers meditating at Lake Eola park telling us the Earth would be destroyed when the planets aligned in 1988.  During junior high our science teachers, the first Global Warming preachers, taught a curriculum detailing how the entire history of mankind only served to create an environment too toxic for the earth to survive.  We’d leave the lab and stumble down the down the hall only to read Alas Babylon in English class.  Who knew Argentina would be a world leader after the US and Soviet Union were destroyed?  No wonder they keep saying we should learn to speak Spanish.  And meanwhile, Y2K loomed ever closer.

Thirty?  Who was gonna live to thirty?

Us! And we did!  But we did it a little differently than our predecessors. 

Perhaps it was a natural inclination toward a joie de vivre in the face of death.  We insisted on having a good time while we waited for the killer asteroid to hit (no, that wasn’t a new fear from the early 2000’s; we started it back in ’86 with rumors about the real reason the space shuttle Challenger exploded).  We never gave up our fast cars; we had one in the garage alongside the family sedan—or better yet, we had two sexy SUVs.  We never thought we’d work only one job that would burn us out.  In fact, if you had only one company on your resume you looked like you had no experience.  So we bounced around from company to company, industry to industry.  Many of us waited until we were in our thirties to get married and start a family, and our kids only help us maintain our juvenile habits.  We ski on the Wii with our children and we buy them sodas to drink while we sip on cocktails at our favorite restaurants.    We teach them how to tail gate at rock concerts and foot ball games.  And when the kids aren’t around, we still act like we did when we were barely out of high school.  We’ll tuck our babes in bed and head down stairs to indulge the frat-boy mentality that still resides in both sexes as we watch Entourage or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  We said to hell with social conservative customs and jeans are now accepted everywhere, even in high-end dining establishments.  Our president says “it’s all cool” and we’re buying Lego sets to ease our stress.

Maybe it’s all Jimmy Buffett’s fault.  He did give us the line “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.”  Or maybe it was Prince’s dictate to “Party Like It’s 1999.”  Whatever it was, we never disconnected ourselves from our youthful appetites, never questioned the validity of our desires, never censored our tastes.  So instead of arriving at mid-life in anger and fear, feeling unfulfilled and resentful because we’re missing out on something as we age, we seem to be mildly amused. Already pierced, tattooed and in possession of a drawer full of current concert T-shirts, we go out to dinner with friends when inevitably someone says something like “have you noticed how impatient you’re getting as you get older?” And we laugh because we realize we’re becoming crotchety old fools and it’s no big deal.

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Filed under Age, Chaos, Commentary, Definitions, Relationships