Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Don't Let the Web Net You

Inside Trader Joe’s this past winter I came across Meg, a high school friend who had been away from the Amherst area for years. She said that Amherst during her absence had lost its soulfulness and become cold. The people had become cold to each other. I hadn’t noticed the change as sharply as she did, but only because I have lived in western Massachusetts for the last 25 years, so it had come too gradually for me to notice. But I agreed, Gone are the days when bands played concerts on the common, and a lot of people saw each other at the same time. There doesn't seem to be a desire for that sort of thing anymore.
``Everyone’s stuck on the Internet,’’ Meg said.
On July 2, Marc Maron, hosting the Thom Hartmann Program, said the obsession with the Internet indicates that people are much better at isolating themselves than taking care of each other. I believe that folks should go out of their way to not take the Web too seriously. The simple pleasures that existed before the Web was introduced in 1992 can still be found.
I maintain this blog for fun, but if I ever become obsessed with it I hope the fact will make itself known to me and I’ll have the good sense to stop.
Maron referred to two incidents: 1) in which a woman died while waiting for treatment in a hospital, and 2) the case of the old man who was hit by a car in a business district -- the impact threw him into the air -- only to be ignored by every passer-by. He eventually died from his wounds. You may have seen the video on the TV news. Maron asked:

``What are people so self consumed with that they can’t check to see if someone’s all right?

``Are we that jaded, are we that self-involved, that… those are indications to me of the real problem of why when somebody calls me up and says, `You got to get rid of political labels, right, left, Democrat, Republican, and just realize that we’re all Americans in trouble.’ What, we’re all selfish because of America and what America’s become on some level. We’ve all been isolated into our homes. There’s no reason to even go out anymore. You can shop on-line. You can have sex on-line. You can talk to other people on-line. And I’m guilty of this. Yesterday, I just broke up with a girl -- online. I don’t know who did it, it’s unclear to me, but where is the humility in that? Where is the exchange? Where do you learn wisdom? Where do you learn from your mistakes if you can’t look at somebody and see how they’re reacting to what you’re saying? If you can’t actually go over to someone’s house and talk to them?

``If you’re immersed in yourself and toys, it will just isolate you. We’re just like the little emperors of own desks.… (T)he idea of community, in and of itself, is disintegrating altogether. An on-line community is not really a community. A community where people take real action, where people help each other -- I mean, that’s what you would hope would happen. That’s what the New Deal represented. That’s what America should be about. But we’ve all become isolated, and because of the way our brain works, our belief systems are what they are, they’re very hard to shake, and a lot of people will just seek information that supports their own belief system. It’s a disaster.

As an example of the dearth of altruism in America, Maron noted a TV news report about the flooding in the Midwest.
``… (A)nd it really struck me, because you have people who interpret catastrophe and disaster in a religious way. Like the floods in the Midwest. This is when it first started happening. People are losing their homes. Thousands of people are out of their homes. Levees are breaking. Main Streets are flooding. The Mississippi has made a decision, and it’s very hard to stop the Mississippi when it makes a decision. Now you can look at that as a sign of The End. You can look at as an environmental catastrophe that was bound to happen.’’
The TV reporter was ``standing on a flooded Main Street, abandoned, destroyed... talking about how horrible it was. This flood is horrible, thousands of people are out of their homes, it’s gonna cost millions and billions of dollars to fix. And then out of nowhere he pulls a fishing net out, and says, `But you know what? You can fish on Main Street.’ And he tries to catch a fish. That, my friends, is the sign of the End of The World. That a roomful of producers and a guy reporting on one of the great tragedies, certainly of the last 20 years, and decides, like, `This’ll be good. Let’s try to catch and a fish. That’ll be cute.’ … And he did it two days running -- until he caught a fish.
Who lets that happen? Who lets a guy die in the street when he’s hit by a car? Who lets a woman die in the waiting room of a hospital? Who decides it’s a good idea to catch a fish on a flooded Main Street when there are thousands of people out of their homes, and millions of dollars are going to be needed to help those people, and I’m sitting at home, going, `Yeah, I feel bad for them.’ I’m not doing anything. Who’s doing something? People who really help. Are you one of them? Is there really community?’’
The first video is a surveillance tape of the woman dying in the waiting room. The second is of the man being hit by the car.

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