Way back in the pre-automobile agricultural era, it was rare for people to travel very far from home. While I can’t speak to their interests, I can understand the limiting effects of available transport and employment patterns.
Today we have the mobility, but it appears that many people still don’t have the interest in experiencing other people and places, even if they have the means.
I remember visiting a friend who’s an avid soccer fan and soccer dad. I wasn’t surprised that he had a match on the TV. It was a home game of the local professional team. I asked him how many times he’d seen them play in person. He’d never been there – and wasn’t even sure where the stadium was, less than 30 minutes from his house. Another friend has lived in a region for 20+ years, yet doesn’t recognize the region’s distinctive local cuisine when it’s in front of them.
I can understand people who prefer television documentaries to travelling in places they deem dangerous or unaffordable. But substituting television for the experience of sharing the meal or a match with friends in a restaurant, pub or stadium? I don’t know. For too many people, the medium has become more than the message, it’s become their reality.
Over the past forty years I’ve travelled and worked in each of the United States. I’ve found it the rule, rather than the exception, that most people are ignorant of what’s happening in their own towns, their own communities. Between work, family and just trying to survive, they live in ignorance of their communal environment, even when this knowledge would have a measureable impact on their lives. However, they can conduct an animated discourse on national and international places and people they’ve never been to and never met, all through broadcast and online media that reinforce their preconceived notions. I recall sitting in a restaurant next to a man who was talking about a political topic that interested me, but which I hadn’t had time to study. After asking him a few questions, I realized that he hadn’t studied it either. He wasn’t answering my questions. He was simply reciting what his favorite radio host had proclaimed.
Parrots are also very good at repeating what they hear on the radio. But we don’t expect them to vote and hold leadership positions in our society.
Are we becoming a society where every man [and woman] wants to become an island? Where social skills are sacrificed to self-satisfied shouting on the internet? Just read the comments section that usually follows an online news story or op-ed piece. And remember the old adage, “It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
Dealing with real people in the real world can soften our edges, give us perspective and hopefully, teach us how to be Homo sapiens rather than Homo Ineruditus.
When we encounter something new, do we react with fear or respond with curiosity?