Posts Tagged social contract

Independent society

“Everyone’s the good guy in their own story.” It’s funny how perspective works: we get so focused on living our own lives that we sometimes forget that everyone around us is trying to do exactly the same thing. Marketing departments and Tea Partiers want us to be our own unique selves, but how can we do that without getting in each other’s way?

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the fundamental freedoms necessary for each citizen to be their own person, but until now they haven’t had access to the sheer amount of esoterica that can craft a unique persona. The rise of social media changed that, which is why so many suburban white kids now have a taste for kimchi.

Expanding cultural horizons is always a good thing, but sometimes it smacks of desperation. It is possible to spend too much effort on introspection, to examine one’s self so closely that you will inevitably find an excuse to continue a self-aggrandizing search for happiness.

The more we spend looking at ourselves, the less we see of other people. That makes social interactions more difficult, because everyone else starts to seem like an obstacle, or a pawn. We deserve to make ourselves happy, but we need to remember that everyone else is doing the same thing.

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We need to teach our parents some manners

Technology is a wonderful thing (this blog wouldn’t be possible without it), but it does come with some drawbacks. The combined heat of the world’s iPad 3s is probably contributing to global warming, and some say the Internet is just one big distraction. Regardless, one thing is certain: high tech gadgets make people incredibly rude.

People seem to think that smart phones and other devices excuse them from behaving properly. They let them ring at the most inappropriate times, and discuss things in elevated cell phone voices that not one needs to hear. Suits with ear pieces look like they are talking to themselves. People carry on conversations with friends while texting other friends.

A few years ago, this type of behavior would have been unthinkable. Now, people are so engrossed in what is happening on their tiny LCD screens that they ignore the people around them. Is this the future of human interactions? Perhaps not.

I may sound like an altacocker, but I’m actually part of the young, tech savvy generation ad men dream about. This isn’t the 1950s, where an older generation decried youth’s supposed lack of morals. This time, parents (and grandparents) are listening to rock n’ roll. Unlike past cultural phenomena, the technological revolution is not generation-specific.

A common stereotype is that all young people are very good with computers, while their Baby Boomer parents just can’t figure them out. That’s often true, but that doesn’t mean older people are not using computers, smart phones, or tablets. In fact, that’s the problem.

A lot of older people have smart phones, but they may not be comfortable using them. They see other people being obnoxious, and assume it is part of the brave new smart phone culture. These people probably don’t even know how to set their iPhones to “silent.”

Consequently, it’s up to teenagers and 20-somethings to teach their parents some manners. This generation has grown up with the annoyances of technology abuse, so they know how to use their devices without making everyone within a 15-foot radius want to kill them. Youth is also much better for marketing: no one takes an old person complaining about manners seriously, but what about someone in their 20s? For once, parents should listen to their children.

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Characters Not Welcome

Without individuality, life would be incredibly boring. Luckily, all human beings have a unique personality, some more unique than others. Everyone has at least one “character” in their lives, someone with a personality so strong you would think they were sent from central casting.

These people transcend the social niceties most of us get hung up on. Whether it’s the conductor singing “City of New Orleans” as he punches tickets on a commuter train, or the unofficial mayor of a small town or neighborhood, who seems to be friends with everyone, they are easy to spot.

It’s a role that few people have the audacity and, well, character to pull off without looking like schmucks, and that is the way it should be. Society can only handle so many characters, but almost everybody tries to be one.

People try to write off their irascibility and anti-social behavior by adopting the character facade: it’s not their fault that they offended you, they tell it like it is and that’s just the way they are. You need to get over it.

Curmudgeons aren’t the only culprits. Younger people have their own archetypal characters, like the “partier” or “drama queen.” Instead of tailoring responses to different situations like human beings, they react the same way every time and expect the rest of the world to accommodate them.

The world needs characters, what it doesn’t need is narcissists. Everyone has personality flaws, or moments of indiscretion, and no one should be crucified for the occasional bad mood or inappropriate reaction. Still, people need to own up to their mistakes: not everything can be blamed on one’s immutable character.

If everyone was a character, there would be no point in being a character. The genre would become overplayed and passe, like superhero comics or vampire romances. To have character, a person has to be unique. Everyone wants to escape the pressure of social mores, but that doesn’t mean they can pull off this kind of performance.

Real-life characters know they live in the real world, but they interact with it in a different way than everyone else. Wannabe characters just want to escape the rules of the real world with shallow play-acting, and that is why the whole notion of characters has gone too far. Not everyone can be Groucho; someone has to be Zeppo.

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