Uncommon Sense: The Dinner Table As Spotted Owl

“We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.” – Bergen Evans

It used to drive my mom nuts whenever my dad would tune into the Giants game on the radio during dinner back in the late 1950s and early '60s.  “Just gotta check the score,” he’d tell her, utterly oblivious and in total disregard for her objections.  

In retrospect, it might have been his way to announce to the entire family that he was bored to tears by the banality of the conversation at the table, but the lesson was clear: The best way to end any conversation was to turn on the radio and check the score.

Variations of the same scenario (with allowances for local team loyalties) played out in thousands of communities and at millions of family dinner tables every night all across the country.  Little did my mom know (little did anyone know) that within a generation or two ,the American dinner table would all but disappear, neglected to death (in the words of the great Paddy Chayefsky) and left to wither and die in the barren confluence of TV and frozen foods.  

Guess it goes to show just how little we appreciate things until they’re gone, and how much less we appreciate them after that. Popular culture relies on its ability to obliterate history.

Time was when the dinner table served as the nexus of all news, especially local news, mostly about family, friends and neighbors.  Local news at the dinner table was more than mere gossip.  It was a call to action -- maybe a phone call or a personal visit.  Back then, the ratio of actionable news to mere gossip was much higher than anything we encounter in commercial media today.  

Now, we may know what happens halfway around the world but haven’t a clue about what’s going on in our own backyards.  And almost none of what we know or learn from the media compels any action whatsoever, except perhaps to change the channel or post something on someone’s Facebook wall.

The demise of newspapers has little or nothing to do with the decline of news as a sellable commodity, and everything to do -- like the dinner table -- with the denouement of a lifestyle.  The demise of newspapers began when people started checking their email first thing in the morning (as half of all Americans now do) and rushing face first into the white noise of day instead of sitting down in peace and quiet with a cup of coffee to check the sports page.  

 It has nothing to do with the quality or veracity of the product, and everything to do with the quality of life.

Wondering what happened to the newspaper industry is like clear-cutting the old-growth forest and wondering what happened to the spotted owl.  It ain’t exactly rocket science: Things wither and die as the environments that support them are destroyed.

Seems like the more we communicate the less we actually talk.  Some years ago I speculated that contrary to popular folk wisdom -- we aren’t what we eat as much as how we eat.  Likewise, it’s not what we say. as much as where and how we say it.

Today, the dinner table is a distant memory, and we eat on the run, in front of a screen and/or between tweets.  No matter how you slice it, however, it all adds up to massive indigestion, constipation and obesity.  Lucky for us that the supermarket and drugstore shelves are stocked high with antacids and laxatives.


1 comment about "Uncommon Sense: The Dinner Table As Spotted Owl".
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  1. Jeff Einstein from The Brothers Einstein, April 5, 2012 at 12:58 p.m.

    Agreed, Paula. But I was just being kind. In fact, we don't know much of anything anywhere.

    Worse yet, we don't even know what we don't even know...

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