It was hard to not feel a touch of melancholy looking at a recent opinion page cartoon penned by Scott Stantis of the Chicago Tribune. In the multi-paneled illustration, a middle-aged gent comes across a Sears catalog and is transported to his childhood, when he’d spent “hours looking at all of the stuff I’d get some day.” Noting that Sears has filed for bankruptcy, he wonders why, then comes across a young person with his baseball cap on backwards trying to swipe the catalog (swipe as in not steal but as in maneuver a touch screen) and understands what it is that has happened.
Old ways making way for the new has its victims, including Sears, whose catalog was a tradition you once thought could never end.
Yes, I feel sad about this, but one thing I can tell you is that what annoys me more is when you go on Facebook or some place and encounter these odes to the good old days, as in: remember when you could play outside and your parents didn’t have to arrange for play dates? — and a host of other things kids had and did decades ago that they can’t have and do today.
What’s super irritating is the insinuation that somehow this is the fault of the kids of today. If you take a second you realize you don’t need a second to think about this: They had nothing to do with it. If anyone’s at fault it’s those who grew up during what they considered better days and let the world turn lousy; they were the ones in charge when the world crumbled, not their children!
Anyway, as you can see, I get irritated. But there is something afoot, and there has been for a while: a trend toward separating rather than uniting, that technology may not have started but certainly hasn’t helped, and it’s not just the Sears catalog that’s heading down the drain.
The advertisements tell you that Facebook aims to bring people together, but this strikes one as nonsense because the effect is at least just as often the opposite. Social media distances people, by morphing their identities into digital personalities. Now you could say this is not so bad, because it allows people a new and different way to express themselves, and that’s true, but it’s done exclusively behind the shield of the computer screen or tablet or super phone and people never have to be the themselves they would be in front of others and are thus free to act in ways they wouldn’t in front of others in a non-virtual setting (otherwise, I guess, known as reality). You can see how this might be liberating, but there’s ample evidence that it can also get vile.
Now, you ought to be able to have it both ways, and it would be nice to think that people could lift their noses from the screen long enough to get to know one another the old-fashioned way. But that may be wishful thinking.
Just recently we learned that the Southington Kiwanis, an organization of 60 years, is in danger of going the way of the dodo, or the Sears catalog. The culprit is the loss of members.
There’s a confluence of influences here, as Andreas Yilma’s Record-Journal story observed, including the observation by Quinnipiac University experts that people young and old and in between simply don’t have the time they once had. Everbody knows we’re too busy these days; we’ve got all that email to go through.
“There is an astonishing disappearance in the amount of time of belonging to organizations and physical participation overall,” said Scott McLean, a political science professor. “Many people go on Facebook or Twitter to say things but do not get physically involved.”
Technology is a marvelous thing — I’m not going to get into an argument — but, take my word for it, so was the Sears catalog. I bet if you got a few young people to join the Southington Kiwanis, they might be pleasantly surprised. You might be, too.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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