“The rich are different from you and me.” Or are they?

The big house on a hill, few dealings with everyday people, even less contact with the real world. Insulation from the day-to-day hassles of survival. Sound familiar? Think of the mystified George HW Bush, confused along the campaign trail when he first encountered a supermarket scanner. Money buys more than privacy, it buys isolation and ignorance. Space around our bodies can lead to space between the ears.

The American dream home is a castle. Moated by putting green lawns and security gates, crowned with satellite dishes, these mini Fortress Americas are designed to minimize contact with other human beings. At the heart of these defenses is the internet, the time-sucking echo-enhancing wide-screened monster that’s pulling the last bits of social grace and politeness from people’s personalities.

Maybe I’ve spent too much time in parts of the world where smaller personal living areas lead to a greater use of public space. Places with fewer rear decks and more front porches. Fewer grassy yards and more community parks. When community design and regional architecture promote social interaction we learn how to deal with others as people, not just chat room names. We’re reminded that people have feelings and brains; that we can have conversations instead of shouting matches full of non-supported sound bites. With a little bit of luck we learn to focus on the full meaning of another’s statements, rather than simply pausing in our speech or reacting to the first few words they say. Maybe our media-driven ADHD will begin to decline.

It’s common to see urban/rural political divides in many parts of the world. Different environments require different approaches to life and breed differing world views. I see the wired/unwired divide as being a more serious one because it’s destroying social skills. Sitting in castles absorbing media designed to reinforce itself, we’re creating the same space around ourselves that used to be associated with money or a non-urban mindset, without any of the human modifiers that soften our hard edges. Is humanity possible in today’s cyber society?

In a world built of ones and zeros, what happens when we’re the one and everyone and everything else is zero?

If you don’t see, feel or touch another, are they really there? If they’re not there, how can they be your problem?


2 Comments on ““The rich are different from you and me.” Or are they?

  1. In the words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us”. I concur with your sage comments. Meaningful conversations and hand written notes are being suplanted by text messaging and e-mails. Right on brother. Keep sounding the clarion call.

  2. Jim, A related, perhaps ironic dilemma, is that somewhere near 45% of world’s population lacks an Internet connection. A similarly large fraction lacks ANY telecommunications capability in their daily lives. Somewhere between this extreme and the other extreme you so deftly describe in this blogpost – digital bunkerdom – lies a happy medium. Or at least a point in between that society can live with. A second irony is that the “ham radio,” an old technology that survives and thrives, was said to be the “original Internet.” Yet, the ham community would tell us, it brought (and still does) people together rather than insulating them from one another.

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