Jan 9, 2015

Looking Back - Discerning the Future

I love looking back in history. I love to allow my mind to imagine what other times were like for those who lived them. People have always been just people.

But every era, every generation has its own experience - its own rhythm, style, and ambiance. When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, it seemed difficult to understand how society could become any more advanced. We had already been to the moon, created realistic-looking movies and television (have you seen an 80s movie lately?), utilized cordless phones, developed computers that would fit on a desk instead of taking up an entire room, experimented with virtual reality, and witnessed the birth of the immortal Mac/PC war.

How could it get any better?

But it has. We have the technology now at the beginning of my fourth decade of life that would have left me speechless in my second decade. Phones aren't just phones anymore; they function as cameras, computers, and televisions. They send email, text messages, and Facebook statuses in addition to making (gasp!) old-fashioned phone calls. Our cars are now equipped with touch screens, talking GPS, satellite radio, gyroscopic cup holders and Onstar connection in case of an emergency. Our television sets can surf the Internet, stream movies, and rewind live broadcasts! In the age of VCRs, walkmans, and the Atari Video Game System, who would have thought?

Many of these things are such a great help to both society and individuals alike. Our new gizmos save us time and effort in getting through our daily checklists. The internet has allowed business sales and networking to skyrocket exponentially. People have more opportunities to work from home now. And who could discount the entertainment industry? Movies and games and music, oh my! All at our capable fingertips.

Of course, few would argue with the fact that technological advancement is certainly a double-edged sword. I won't even go into the dangers of the lurking pornographic industry available on the internet or the sale of humans into slavery utilizing the web's runways. This isn't the fault of the internet; it's the abuse of the internet. But that's a whole 'nuther post.

For now, let's just look at what technology has done to change our daily lives. Since we have so many gadgets to help us more efficiently tackle the tasks of the day, look at all the time we've saved! We have more time for other things now: dinner around the table every night, a spontaneous mid-afternoon visit with the neighbor, plenty of rest at night and...wait, what?

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) reports that "Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Epidemic" in this country. While there is a myriad of reasons for this, our efficiency with our technology is apparently not helping in this area. Forbes reports that 1 in 2 Americans don't know their neighbors' names. Half? Wow. It seems we also don't have time for one another these days.

I was pleasantly surprised when I looked up the frequency that families are eating dinner together recently. It seems some recent studies say that up to 75% of American families say they eat dinner together at least 5 nights a week. That's much higher than I expected to find! But when we examine what many of those families are eating together, it causes me to pause.

I won't get into a rant on processed foods here. Believe me, I could. But hear me out...if we have so many conveniences and time-savers, why do we (as a society) depend so heavily on pre-packaged processed foods? According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of Americans eat fast food at least once per week. Granted, some of these people choose to enjoy eating out, but I wonder how many do this for time's sake?

Now I realize there are other factors involved; the economy is one. Many families cannot think of life with only one income for various reasons. I know some families simply must have two incomes to survive, but I wonder how many of those reasons can be attributed to the need to pay for our more elaborate toys and material possessions?

Materialism is truly an unseen epidemic in this country.

And I'll just leave that there.

But here's the bottom line on our gadgets: I don't think we ought to rid ourselves of technology, but we should think more closely about how and why we use it. And how far we'll pursue to get it.

I was reading an article on Psychology Today website regarding the reasons and effects of materialism in our culture. Care to know this professional's solution to our materialism epidemic?


The website defines gratitude as "an emotion expressing appreciation for  what one has—as opposed to a consumer-oriented emphasis on what one wants or needs." 

And it offers this for guidance: 

"Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, grateful thinking—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased levels of energy, optimism, and empathy."

I have a challenge for you (and me) for this new year. Why not make it a point, that for every negative thought or murmur that comes from our lips, we deliberately speak of something for which we can be grateful. 

"I really hate going into Walmart." (true story)

"BUT, it's close to the house and I'm saving a little money." Out loud.

Every. Single. Time.

"I cannot BELIEVE all this traffic!"

"However, I am still on the road, as opposed to the side of it either in a wreck or getting a ticket."

And what if we created a habit of this?

I'm game if you are. I think my boys will benefit from it too...especially when I keep the thought in, and instead let the gratitude pour from my mouth. 

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