Another year over….

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Happy New year to all! And just one week into 2020, I want to make a definite resolution: no variation of “2020 vision”, or “hindsight is 2020″ from me. It may have been funny on January 1, perhaps it was even witty in a way. But, by January 3, it had lost its magic. So, no such lazy witticisms from now on. Agreed? Which makes it harder to introduce a look back at 2019 without using words like “hindsight”, etc. But let’s try.

Actually, although the purists may disagree, this is also the start of a new decade. I know, it really should start in 2021, but we all started the millennium in 2000, so we have to continue the tradition: a new decade starts at the zero mark. But what a decade it has been. There have been major events, as usual, by which we mark the years, but surely the greatest change since 2010 has been the stealthy intrusion into our social lives of so-called social media?

As a people, right across the world, we have slowly begun to distance ourselves from one another. The rise of the smart phone, streaming, on-line media “platforms” like Facebook and Twitter, all have been increasing their influence on society in general, and on individuals and families also.

Not too long ago, people found things to talk about which were relatively unimportant, but yet oiled the wheels of social life. We could debate the relative merits of different TV programs, and discuss at work and over the dinner table the ins and outs of games, movies, soaps and who Johnny Carson or David Letterman had on their shows the previous night. Minor things, peripheral, perhaps, but, nevertheless, common elements which helped form and maintain social bonds.

But over the past decade, that has changed quite radically. It is rare for a family to watch the same things on television, for example. Each member is watching something different on their various screens around the house. It is almost impossible to ask: “Did you see that last night?”, and get a positive answer. Although we may eventually see the same movie or tv show as those around us, we often see them at different times, sometimes weeks later, as we stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Britbox, Acorn, and a host of other sources.

None of this is negative in and of itself. That is not the point, and I truly value the freedom and the range of choices I now have when it comes to entertainment options. I can watch shows from the 1960s, 70’s, or older. I can see live programming from Europe (or even the U.K. post-Brexit) whereas before watching, for example, live Premier League soccer was, if not impossible, then possibly illegal. Now there’s a channel just for Canadians where they can watch games live, see reviews of the games, and generally indulge to the full one’s love of the game.

Now, the expanded range of options is welcome and wonderful. It is still, to my mind, quite astonishing that we can see things as they happen a world away from North Grenville. The technology has also allowed us to see, in real time, historic events unfolding in Hong Kong, or Australia, or wherever. We are more informed than ever before, but there is a caveat to this.

In addition to the growing isolation of society as we each watch something different, or experience different events and conversations, the changes wrought in the past decade have also given rise to new and serious problems for society generally. The increased influence of social media has also brought about an increase in on-line bullying, antisocial language and commentary, racist, bigoted and misogynist attitudes, making these things more acceptable in public discourse. Trump’s tweets may be a modern version of Roosevelt’s fireside talks of the 1930’s, but the content and language is certainly not the same.

In short, the past decade has seen a quantum shift in the way we interact as a society, as families, and as individuals. It has changed the tone and content of public and private discourse. It has given rise to increased awareness of the state of the world, and, along with this, increased concern, anxiety, even fear about where the world is heading. The fact that young people are deciding not to have children because of what may happen to the environment and the stability of society, is deeply disturbing. As Bob Dylan said years ago: “You’ve thrown the worst fear that can ever be hurled; fear to bring children into the world”.

So we enter a new decade, a time which has traditionally been one of hope and expectation. Until now, each generation has believed that their world would be better than that of their parents. This is no longer the case. What do we do? I think we each need to think about these things. Resolve to resist the current tide and behave with respect, integrity and dignity. Refuse to lower our standards, regardless of what Trump, below the line comments, or populist politicians say and do. If we are to be more segregated as individuals from those around us, then we can also, as individuals, find and maintain our individual standards. The world is changing. It has always been in a state of changing. We need, each of us, to decide on the nature of that change in the coming years.

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