I recently received a call from an out-of-town cousin announcing that she and her husband would be in the area for the weekend and they would like to get together for a visit. Daughter Annie and her Helix basketball teammates were in action on the night of said cousins’ arrival, and so we agreed to meet at the gym and “root, root, root, for the home team” (I realize that Jack Norworth and Albert von Tilzer were not referring to basketball in the aforementioned line, but I tend to steer the conversation to baseball anytime I can).
After the ballgame, we adjourned to the local tavern for refreshment and lively conversation with both family and friends. Among the many topics covered in our visit was my confession that I prefer to reside in an environment devoid of close neighbors and that the foremost requirement I have for a preferred domicile is that it be located off any paved road.
My cousin expressed surprise that I would embrace isolation so readily because of the fact that I thoroughly enjoy conversing with kith and kin (my wife would more accurately describe my condition as being full of BS). I responded that I have long considered myself a “Swiftian misanthropist.” I explained that according to one of my college professors, the accomplished 17th and 18th century Irish author/clergyman Jonathan Swift despised many of the traits exhibited by humankind, particularly politicians, and deftly satirized them in works such as “Gulliver’s Travels” and “A Modest Proposal.” My professor from long ago stated, however, that Swift loved his friends and neighbors deeply and eloquently praised them in many of his other writings.
Like Swift, I frequently find the actions of men (and women) to be abhorrent in the macrocosm. But in the microcosm of my community and family, I can truly say that I find something laudable in almost everyone I know personally. That having been said, I want to see people when I want to see people. And I relish occasional isolation and find that the battery of my soul can be most effectively recharged when I am alone and preferably am out of cell phone coverage — or better yet, am without any electronic device at all.
I will concede that the proliferation of personal communication devices has saved lives in times of emergency and has made an incredible amount of information available simply with the touch of a finger (or, if you prefer, via a voice command).
However, I worry about our collective ability to thrive (not simply survive) as a species if we continue to become more reliant upon Google than our own memory and forget how to solve problems by our own wits or common sense. I also question the effect upon our wellbeing of an incessant need to “be in touch” and a constant quest for self-validation measured by the number of “likes” we have on Facebook.
I am concerned that folks, young and old alike, have already severely compromised their ability to accurately and eloquently convey their thoughts and ideas by the all-too-common sloppiness found in text message misspellings, and are frequently misunderstood because of a poorly constructed e-mail. I cherish the opportunity to read an actual hand-written, heartfelt letter from a friend or relative, especially if the penmanship even remotely resembles my departed grandmother’s Palmer-method style of writing.
I am not especially enamored with our addiction to social media and near-total reliance upon electronic communication, though I have come to reluctantly accept them as part of our modern culture.
I do have grave misgivings, though, about its use by some citizens who are far more powerful than most of the rest of us. I sincerely hope that issues of national importance and potentially global impact will not simply be determined by a flippant “tweet” sent in the wee hours by some misguided self-aggrandizing buffoon.
I also hope that so-called statesmen (or women) who are “the most-qualified candidate we have ever had” for a particular office will be held to the same standard as the rest of us when scrutinizing electronic records.
Like Jonathan Swift, however, I am an eternal optimist and shall steadfastly maintain my faith in humanity — so long as the view of my fellow man is one from afar.
Matt Wood is his son’s hired man and his daughter’s biggest fan. He lives on a farm near Helix, where he collects antiques and friends.