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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Cultural change is as inevitable as the tides. Embrace it or fight it?

Make my wish come true!

I was talking with my kids (two college aged and a tween) recently about the cultural changes I’ve witnessed over the course of my lifetime. Seeing as November is my birth month and I’ve reached the half century mark Cell Phone Coop(and a little more), it’s remarkable how much life has transformed since I was their age.

Among the multitudes of differences between now and “the old days” is the universal prevalence of the smart phone. You simply can’t step out of the house (or in my case, into another room) without encountering someone peering downward into that little four-inch screen and letting their fingers do the walking (how’s that for an old Yellow Pages reference?). Literally the whole world is available at a few taps of the touch screen. What an invention! Or… is it more like a curse?

Well, some of us occasionally reminisce about LBSP (life before smart phones) and think maybe it wasn’t so bad back then. One restaurant chain in the Old Country apparently agrees with the thought and has even offered patrons a financial incentive to restore a little bit of person-to-person mores… the way it used to be.

Nicole Russell wrote at The Washington Examiner, “This year, I’ve noticed the number of families staring at their phones while eating (including mom, dad, and kids) has increased. I’m not the only one. A restaurant chain [Frankie and Benny’s, which features Italian-American food] in the United Kingdom noticed the same and, based on research, decided to offer free kids meals to the accompanying parents if they were willing to give up their phone while dining there...

“If you don’t ask your kids questions, you’ll never learn what their little minds are contemplating and you’ll never have a chance to speak into their lives. Conversations around the dinner table are also another way kids learn manners, patience, and how to make good conversation themselves. I’m always amazed at the number of adults I bump into who make poor conversation, and can’t seem to figure out how to converse in a way that doesn’t seem self-centered. Kids can escape this fate if you teach them how to converse well with children and adults alike.

“Whether this is a publicity stunt or not, the fact that the restaurant chain employed this based on research I’ve experienced and witnessed tells me it’s not for nothing. I hope parents take advantage of this great deal, turn in their phone, enjoy some great conversations with their children, and in the end, head home for a fraction of the cost.”

In her piece Russell confessed to being as guilty as anyone with her excessive phone employment, and I’ll concede more often than not I keep my device safely at my side during family meals and occasionally check for emails or refer to photos (truly what I love most about the phone!) while munching on tasty vittles and listening to the others reflecting on the news of the day. What I don’t do, which everyone else seems to be partaking in, is engage in snap chats or social media while in the presence of others. It’s rude, isn’t it?

How many occasions have you sat at a table with familiar folk and discovered they’re really “on” with someone else the whole time? The invisible stealth electronic human specter is practically eavesdropping on your entire conversation and you weren’t even aware there was another being in the room. These days nothing’s out of the question when it comes to companionship – “comfort” animals on airplanes, bringing your dog to the ballpark (on purpose!) and of course, hairstylists, manicurists and therapists for pets – it’s truly a different world from the 70’s and 80’s when I came of age.

But is Frankie’s and Benny’s on to something? The concept of “confiscating” smart phones before eating isn’t novel – I remember seeing a “Family Challenge Cellphone Coop” at Chick-fil-A designated for the same purpose, to stow electronics while partaking in delicious chicken sandwiches – but how far have we come as a culture when restaurants see a need to foster table conversation in order to attract customers?

Sometimes it seems people forgot how to talk to each other when it requires voice, inflection and tone. The world’s gotten used to speaking in short blurbs (not even sentences) devoid of grammar, punctuation and spelling. Our phone’s “autocorrect” even suggests words to use as though our brains aren’t capable of storing vocabulary variances like they once were. Most of us wake up in the morning and the first thing we do is grab the device (it’s okay if it’s used as an alarm clock!).

Perhaps the most glaring departure from the old days is what Frankie’s and Benny’s was getting at – simple chit-chat and sharing of ideas in verbal form is a lost art. Having strolled through several airports recently the scene was always the same regardless of locale – people sitting and standing next to each other in close proximity, phones plugged into chargers, the mind-numbed masses passing time without dialogue, making eye contact or life-revealing body language.

It’s almost like viewing mind-dulled human drones before activation. Listless, colorless, emotionless, expressionless… what’s happening to people?

Try and think of a single person over a certain age (thankfully, some children are excluded at the behest of wise parents who figured they don’t need to be exposed to the plague so young) who doesn’t have or utilize a smart phone. My mother is perhaps the only person I’m aware of who doesn’t use the internet at all, yet even she has a smart phone…so I send her pictures. We’re told our president doesn’t – and has never – use(d) email. Maybe Donald Trump was ahead of his time in disdaining electronic communications, though we all know how he feels about smart phones and Twitter!

The world isn’t going back and I’m not sure I’d resurrect the past even if I could. Perhaps we’d all be better off going the way of Frankie’s and Benny’s and impose our own smart phone free zones of our own. Maybe we’d end up leading healthier and happier lives, which is a good thing because apparently life expectancy is going down in the U.S.

Patrick T. Brown wrote at National Review, “The ‘American carnage’ continues. For the third year in a row – a stretch not seen since World War I – American life expectancy fell in 2017, coming in at 78.6 years. The age-adjusted death rate, which takes into account our aging population, rose from 728.8 in 2016 to 731.9 in 2017...

“Because of the way life expectancy is calculated, changes in mortality at earlier ages have a bigger impact. Much of the decline was driven by an increase in deaths among people ages 25 to 44, especially from the opioid epidemic. And the overall rate of drug-overdose deaths rose 9.6 percent between 2016 and 2017. All told, 70,237 deaths were due to drug overdose in the U.S. last year…

“Does more robust funding of, say, worker-training programs seem to be the ticket to address the kind of existential angst evidenced by the slide into opioid abuse? Should we expect the induced labor-supply growth from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to counteract the emptiness met by a bottle or pill jar? Is moralizing about civic society sufficient to rebuild a frayed social fabric that leaves too many isolated and alone?”

Brown’s is a fascinating treatment touching on last week’s news reports of a declining life expectancy rate in this country. Evidence indicates Americans are dying (slightly) younger and the pervasiveness of opioids is largely responsible for the stark increase in overdose deaths and the like. There are a multitude of reasons for this, but at its core it must be cultural deterioration as the root cause.

Some people become addicted to pain killers through no fault of their own, perhaps recovering from an injury and innocently following a doctor’s over-prescription of drugs. They succumb to a cruel twist of fate that could happen to anyone.

But it also seems drug dependency is first and foremost a symptom of other societal sicknesses, the social factors most responsible for deviant behavior in the first place – destruction of marriage and the nuclear family, dis-attachment from socialization, over-reliance on electronic stimulation (smart phones and the internet) and the greater inability to interact in a positive way.

Social media dominates everything now and let’s face it, a lot of folks depend on seeing “likes” to derive happiness and meaning in their lives. Send a casual acquaintance a friend request – and if they don’t respond immediately, is it an insult? How much is too much? Do we really need to know what everyone else’s kids are doing at every moment?

Meanwhile, statistics show church attendance is way down in America and other bastions of western civilization. Political correctness eroded and ultimately shattered time-honored teachings in favor of modern liberal “enlightenment” credos of same-sex marriage, transgenderism, abortion on demand and the extinction of gender roles. Nobody seems to know who they are anymore and our culture not only comforts these directionless souls, it rewards them for their “bravery” of coming forward and speaking on their incomprehensible feelings.

Was Christine Blasey Ford really that brave?

The breakdown of traditional institutions has certainly led to an increase in drug dependency since the emptiness a lot of individuals experience must be filled somehow. If people don’t know how to “get along” with other human beings then drugs and isolation represent an easy escape from reality. “Tough love” authority figures shrink from responsibility for fear of being chastised in the media or sued by liberal interest groups for speaking up and professing ideas that are no longer “acceptable” for the sensitive sort.

Is there a government solution to all of this? This is one issue where Republicans and Democrats appear to agree, there’s an “epidemic” of addiction and everyone wants to help. Dollars for treatment benefit some but will the problem ever be completely alleviated without breaking down and admitting something is dreadfully wrong with a culture that permits these abuses? Victims are victims, but old notions of personal responsibility no longer exist.

Could government impose a “be cruel to be kind” policy? Would it help or make things worse?

There is no magic combination. Just like with women and the career vs. family conundrum, there’s just no way to have it all. Alexandra DeSanctis wrote at National Review, “Each person faces unique circumstances that limit choices and affect outcomes, and in many cases, there’s nothing lamentable about those disparities. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model for juggling family and work; suggesting that you can have only one or the other is highly detrimental.

“When it comes to finding the right balance, men and women face different tradeoffs, and this is where feminists are right to note the unique challenges of female biological reality. Choosing a high-power, time-consuming career instead of marriage … can understandably lead to regret…

“But it’s not an argument for viewing work and family life as a dichotomy. Many women have flourishing marriages, happy children, and meaningful careers — not without tradeoffs, but without forfeiting the unique fulfillment that comes from all three. For pro-family conservatives, that should be the goal.”

Similar to the others highlighted above, this topic has evolved over time to reflect changes in cultural attitudes. Feminists’ claims notwithstanding, women and girls enjoy every opportunity boys and men do these days regardless of biology. By law employers are prevented from discriminating against pregnant women and any business/company worth its salt wouldn’t dare risk losing a great worker due to uncontrollable circumstances.

Every couple is faced with how to juggle the necessities of home and career. With the onset of technology many jobs are adaptable to a home environment and most employers are open to flexible schedules to hang onto their best employees, male or female. To try and pigeonhole the old “career vs. children and family” dichotomy into our 21st century scenario simply won’t work because society doesn’t resemble anything like it did back then.

Men face the same pressures too. My family is non-traditional in the sense my wife commutes to her job everyday and I’ve assumed many roles female household members used to fulfill while working from home. It always makes me chuckle whenever liberal women complain about being tied to the home or having limited choices while men climb the corporate ladder.

Nonsense. If you’re female and you feel you’re getting short shrift, find another job…or work from home. Don’t rely on government to fix the situation for you.

There’s little doubt cultural changes in the past half century have made a significant difference in all of our lives. Some changes are good, others not so much. But time doesn’t wait and it’s in everyone’s best interest to accept that tomorrow will not look like today. For many, it’s a blessing.

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