29 March 2009


There’s a quote in the current issue of Utne Reader that I find fascinating. It’s in the article, “The Lonely American.” I’ll confess that my understanding of cultural anthropology is not the best, but to me, this seems entirely plausible:

“A culture’s attitude toward the ties that bind pervasively shapes how its members interact with the world. These cultural blinders are made clear by a favorite question in cross-cultural research. People are asked to complete the sentence ‘I love my mother but…’ In Western countries, the usual response is critical and distancing, something along the lines of ‘I love my mother but…she’s just so difficult.’ In Southeast Asia, the usual response is ‘I love my mother but…I can never repay all that she has done for me.’ What makes the exercise so powerful is that most people cannot imagine the other response until they are presented with it. As self-reliant Americans, we are automatically prepared to question the value of our strongest bonds and to step away from them when necessary, relying instead on ourselves.”

There have been all kinds of studies done on how Americans increasingly have fewer and fewer true friends. (I’m not talking about Facebook friends!) Debate currently rages if online communities actually are (or better, can become) “community.” I cautiously say “yes.”

The article also states, “Small daily choices—whether to go to a local store or order off the Internet, whether to pick up a ringing telephone or let it go to voice mail, whether to get together with a friend or pop in a DVD—end up defining one’s social world. These little decisions are cumulative.”

I’m the first to admit that sometimes I just don’t feel like being social! But there’s a danger in that: we can allow our world to become too small. Technology can give us a false sense of connection. There’s simply no substitute for meeting with someone “in the flesh.”

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