Monday, May 10, 2010

The Stresses of Modern Life

In recent articles, I've reflected on the way humans treat each other in our modern era, competing for resources, attention and priority.

I turn 48 this month and even in my lifetime, I've seen major changes in the nature and quality of life. A few observations:

*When I was in college, faxes, FedEx, and email did not exist. Fast communication meant a land line phone call.

*The pace of each day was limited by the number of in person encounters you could have.

*Real estate was relatively inexpensive and houses in places like Marin County and Palo Alto could be found for $150,000.

*Debt was something to avoid.

*When I was growing up, a McDonald's meal cost a dollar and consisted of a small hamburger, 4 oz of fries, and 8 ounces of Coke with sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. It was under 500 calories.

*Doctors were respected members of the community. Lawsuits were rare.

*There was no expectation that you'd have a car, a VCR, a flat screen TV and an iPod. You spent what you could afford and accepted the fact that you lived within your means.

*No one had peanut allergies

*People took responsibility and accountability for their actions. If you chose to bathe with a toaster and died, your family would not sue for the toaster manufacturer for making an unsafe product.

*Government was a safety net for truly critical emergencies, not day to day life.

I realize that the items above are filtered through the haze of imperfect 40 year old memories.

However, I really do believe that something has happened in modern society that makes each day distinctly different from my childhood experience in the 1960's.

*Instant communication means that anyone can email the CEO and demand immediate action for their personal projects.

*Someone else is always to blame to everything that goes wrong.

*A baseline quality of life includes much more than in the past and if you cannot afford it, credit cards can provide it for you.

*Stress is a badge of courage.

*Information overload is the accepted norm.

When I was an undergraduate at Stanford, Herb Caen wrote many columns about the changes that took place in the 20th century that reduced the quality of life from his perspective... food, culture, and human interaction.

I hope that at some point, modern society stops and reflects about the nature of our day to day lives and realizes that we need to rethink our priorities i.e.

*Replace reality TV with a good book

*Treat your fellow humans with humility and respect

*Stop the real time communication with everyone you know

*Treat meals as an experience not as refueling

*Understand that this is the only life we have and we should savor it, not be stressed by it

After a recent particularly difficult day, I asked my wife if Ted Kaczynski's Montana Cabin was still available. Of course, as I age access to medical care will be important and cabin life would be a bit challenging, but the concept of wilderness life without an internet connection is intriguing!

No matter how challenging the stresses of modern life, as long as I remember that for everything there is a process, there will always be a path forward.


Akshay Kapur said...

Over the past few years, I've seen a trend towards more simple living. Technology right now feels like we're keeping up with the Joneses. iPads, blackberries, blu-ray players.

Small incremental benefits to technology seem larger than they are when compared to the last version. They're marketed that way; "the next best thing", "new and improved". When you take a step back and assess though, you realize it's just the same product with a few more flashy extras.

Take a moment, breathe, and consider, "what do I need this for?", "How does this fit in with my life, my goals, my family?" Being more purpose-driven as opposed to market-driven.

John, moving out to the woods can seem like a reactionary step, but I guarantee you'll still be as connected as you are now. I tried this out for a few months in a small town in India and it was wonderful. Food was farm to table, yoga was part of a daily routine, spirituality was strong with a variety of religions intermixing in one place, and I was connected 24/7 to the internet world without boundaries.

I struck a balance that I'm trying to recreate now back in America and I understand your reasoning behind wanting to escape. I believe spreading the message the way you are with this post is a perfect example of how the simple, non-tech world and the uber-connected wired world are blending (not colliding) to produce something great.

Unknown said...

My extended family is from WV and a few of us have long joked that We'd be perfectly content with each of us spending all our time on separate mountain tops so long as there were good books and a laptop... family reunions would occur once a year in the holler.

People want to live fairy tail lives and when they fail to do so they are disappointed. Part of the fairy tail has been accomplished by having too much debt and thinking the debtors will never have it come due. Part has been that we can be all things to all people... few of us can carry such a burden.

Still this hectic lifestyle has certainly led to interesting lives.

Anonymous said...

Efforts in mobile health may help bring access to healthcare from your cabin... Hang in there. You are doing wonders. Among many things, you are influencing others to be humanists who may normally fall into the negative patterns. You influence is most effective in person so please save the cabin idea for a non-full time endeavor. Nothing wrong with getting batteries recharged in order to go back and fight the good fight.

Medical Quack said...

You make some very good points as always here and what we knew in the past is not what we have today for sure. We have a lot of choices, an abundance of information to sort through, thus your comment on finding "blame" today is not easy as well. As we all collaborate and share data and resources, the old paradigm doesn't work anymore as there could be many sources when looking to find a source.

Blame shifting should not be a way of life. How we balance all of this is the key and stress with learning is high and we all need to heed the call of "participation" at some level as non participation leads to some unusual if not non-conclusional comments and opinions. We see that on the web every day I think.

I write quite a big about the balance of ethics and technology and indeed we have challenges in this area and need to remember not to forget this fact. One of the real joys in reading your material and information too is that you are a "hands on" person, in other words you jump right in and give it a try and make it a personal experience and if you look at blogs and social network communications today, that is what the world is looking for as it helps us in our decision processes today rather than another long complicated report that tends to lose interest and may be written above what individuals are looking for today.

The "new normal" is here and alive today and we can't go backwards, although those memories are great and nice to think back to simpler times here and there and it reminds us to not forget the bounds of ethics and where we are going down the road.

Thanks for keeping us in "check"!

EMR said...

I am a child of the Leave It to Beaver era and have fond memories of a simpler time but I also cherish new memories being made every day with the technology we have at hand.

Most importantly, we do have choices and we have to be strong and compassionate about living a 'real' life however each of us defines 'real'.

Unfortunately, Ted's cabin is no longer in Montana so you would have to escape to the Newseum, several blocks from Capitol! Not much quiet there. I got to spend a 'real' day there for my birthday last year - a treat for me as I lingered slowly through every exhibit looking back through five centuries of news and nostalgia and thinking about what the future holds.