Commentary

Like the Amish do...

I've been on a bit of a blogging hiatus for a couple of reasons. For a while there it was out of sheer busyness. There was simply no time for writing anything at all that wasn't 100% critical. Then graduation happened, and that excuse went right out the window. Yet, still no blogging for another full month. Why? I think I fell victim to media overload. Last semester, I was taking three semester-project media classes - two major DVD's and a couple of web sites. Basically every waking hour of the last month of college was spent creating some sort of media. By the time it was done, I didn't even want to read anything anymore. I did that for a couple of weeks, and I feel a lot better.

I've been home twice in the last couple of weeks, which is two more times than I'd been home since Christmas (sorry Mom). Every time I go home, I drive through the heart of Amish country - Middlebury, Shipshewana, etc. As I fly by countless fields at 70 mph, swinging wide to dodge the buggies so as not to spook the horses with my blasting mid-90's post-grunge, I always end up thinking about these people who have chosen a simpler existence. I don't mean the lack of cars and lights. These are certainly things that we as consumers have gotten used to, but things we could ultimately adapt to living without. More, important, I think, is that they have chosen isolation, and have given up nearly all media. Even more interesting is that it is customary for adolescents to be given a choice to leave the community. They get a chance to experience cars, clothes, music, and movies like other Americans. Guess what? They almost always choose to remain technologically disconnected.

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It is fascinating, sociologically, that they have terrifically low crime rates. Now, I don't mean to say that media use causes crime - I've never believed that, and I groan audibly every time someone says that Grand Theft Auto makes kids shoot up schools. I think it's one of those "correlation does not imply causation" things. But the consumerist culture, with status based on achievement and property, seems to lend itself much more to these sorts of problems. I'm sure this is due, in part at least, simply to the increasing connected-ness of our culture. There is just more opportunity for conflict. But I wonder if there is an underlying attitude, perhaps a culture-wide frustration, that is related to both increased violence and pervasive media use.

I think media can be a useful tool. However, it sometimes seems like it exists to fill a void. It seems to fill a deep-seeded need for social interaction that we are not getting. I know some lonely people who, while it was running, developed true relationships with characters on the show Friends. It seemed to make these people, who were not having the best times in their lives, happier - and not because it was funny. I will save my sitcom tirade for a future post.

I started to think about all of this media-as-a-bandaid stuff when I read some article years ago - I wish I could remember who wrote it or what it was called, but memory fails - talking about the absence of touch in Western society. They also discuss this same sort of thing in the film Crash. For most of us, it is not acceptable to touch one another, and we will go to great lengths to avoid touching someone accidentally. A society of disconnection. We fill social voids by creating relationships with people we have never met, never will meet, who don't even exist. What else compels people to religiously watch the same TV show every week, even avoiding plans with real people to do so?

So I suppose my question is - is it worth the price? A professor of mine once made an interesting assertion - that once we use a piece of technology for long enough, the entire species becomes dependent on it. So as we continue to use media as a tool for self-expression and relationship-building, are we becoming progressively less capable of doing these things without it? I don't know the answer, and I don't think anyone ever will.

Now, before this truly turns into a meta-discussion, I'm going to cut myself off.

My hippie-fu is extra strong today.

1 comment about "Like the Amish do...".
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  1. David Hawthorne, June 11, 2007 at 1 p.m.

    Been going through the media mill (i.e. consciously aware that media is separate and distinct from immediate engagement) for nearly 50-years. I was charmed by your Amish fly-by. I thought about them deeply a year or so ago when they experienced the horror of that madman killing their children in the school they built for them. I envied them their apparent absense of rancor and hatred. For the first time in years I thought how blessed they must feel to be so equanimous and I recalled thinking how much it required mastery over desire.

    Media, like other human artifice, has no moral component until humans uses it to bend nature to their desires. Lay down the tool and it is souless and inanimate... but set it into motion, and it amplifies the soul of its user as much as it amplifies muscle, voice, brain, and other potentialiaties.

    We have a lot to learn from the Amish. I think they use media in careful and conscious ways, like they use the other things around them. Use of everything, for the Amish, is considered and studied and purposeful. I think ordinary people look at them a wonder at how they live without so many of the things we have. I think they look at us and wonder how we live with the things we have.

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