The Sweet & Sour of Decembers

Nearing the end of the 1950 decade, a famous physicist named Albert Einstein said, It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.
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Xmas portraitWith advances in medical cures and surgeries since Einstein’s era, many arguments can be made that technology has actually benefited humanity in many ways.  The U.S. Census Bureau now states the average life expectancy for Americans in the 21st century is almost 79-years old.  This is up from 47-years old in the 20th century.  Much of that increase is due to the advances in medical vaccinations and the scientific research and technology behind them.  It is very possible that devastating diseases such as diphtheria, polio, or Chicken pox could be completely eradicated from our planet by the year 2020 thanks in part to technology.

Today, a traveler can merely turn-on their mobile phone or GPS system and get not just precise directions to their destination, but rerouting directions, in case of up-to-the-minute construction detours or heavy traffic delays thus relieving to a degree human stress and anxiety.  That’s great, right?  And what about the new age of on-the-spot real-time cell phone video-recording?  Due to many spectators and runners at the last Boston Marathon, the two young bombers were later identified and one captured by law enforcement.  Once again, examples of technology benefiting humanity.

What then was Einstein alluding to?

There have been a few answers offered by historians, such as the 1945 creation and use of the atomic bomb:  an instrument of war and annihilation of unimaginable scales.  Yet others, like me, argue that his meaning was also metaphorical.  Technology can be abused, yes; but technology can also be a substitute, a decoy or diversion.  As much as Einstein was referring to the atomic age – when humanity was building weapons of death and destruction – this once brilliant man was probably referring to the decline of human interaction as well.

History of cell phone

History of cell phone

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The Sour:  Parasites of Electronika!

The opening scene could go like this:  “The infestation began from the days of pin-ups, big bands, and blood and mushroom clouds.  From the ashes and debris of world wars came the legions of machines of every size…”  Technically, since the invention of the telegraph, telephone, and radio in the 1800’s and then the television in the 1920’s, every household in the Western hemisphere had at least one of these devices if not all of them.  Advances in mass manufacturing made these items easily available for most households.  At the same time another device or machine was being mass-produced:  the automobile.  By the 1980’s personal computers were becoming the next most common household machine.  And by 1995 the world-wide web, or internet, was in almost every single home.  Today, these historic machines and devices are part of every family member’s day and night.  During the holiday season the production and purchase of these machines and devices jump exponentially to mind-boggling amounts!

But don’t gasp yet; below are the 2008-2009 hourly averages of use per day in a year for American 8-to-18 year olds.  Once you read these results and tables, jack them way up for the holidays.

According to this survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the 8-to-18 year old youth group in America spent 7 hours and 38 minutes worth of electronic media time on these devices per day.  Note the study was done four years ago.  With all possible electronic devices and mediums available to American youth in 2013, here is a more up-to-date graphic:


1923 parking lot

1923 parking lot

The pie-chart above indicates that by 2010, American 8-to-18 year olds spend on average 10 hours and 45 minutes of electronic media time per day.  Granted the pie-chart is an average of just 2,000 students and I presume there is a margin of fluctuation given the demographic location of the students – i.e. rural youths are more likely to spend more time outdoors than urban or suburban youths – however, how much fluctuation would there be when comparing say my generation (1970’s and 80’s), or my parent’s generation (1950’s and 60’s) to these studies…the 8-to-18 year old generation of today?  Answer:  A lot!

When I was in my freshman and sophomore years in high school, the mobile phone was just becoming popular.  They were the size of small bricks!  There was nothing called the personal computer (yet), much less the internet.  Imagine what our grandparents had seen during their lifetimes.  My grandparents had grown up through the invention of flight and airplanes then jets, the Great Depression and World War II.  They witnessed all the technological advances:  the radio, television, and Model-T’s and Model-A automobiles!  What an era to live in, huh?

Let us pause though for a minute.  Let’s step back from the awes of technological invention and examine more closely what Einstein was talking about.  How does his epiphany apply to 2013?

Sour:  The Modern 24-Hour Day

50s-family-watching-tvConsidering all the technological machines and devices mentioned so far, how much of an adult’s 24-hour day is consumed by those machines and devices?  Starting with the personal automobile, how many hours do you think the average American adult spends inside a vehicle per day?  Is it more than a person in 1970?  In 1950?

At work, whether in an office or behind the counter of Starbucks Coffee, how many hours of a full work day might an adult spend in front of a computer?  During leisure time not at work or working, how many hours does an adult today spend in front of a laptop or desktop computer?  How many hours do they spend on an electronic cell phone, work or leisure?  What do you think the amount of time was in 1970?  And now for the mother-load…How many hours do you think an American adult spends in front of a television?  Be honest.

Whatever the amount of hours you guessed, subtract that from 24.  Next, subtract six, seven, or eight hours more for healthy sleep per night.  How many hours – maybe minutes – are remaining when we are NOT on an electronic device or machine, or in front of an electronic device or machine?  Getting the picture?

teenagers-and-iphonesWhen I figured my estimations of electronic device or technological machine (automobile) usage per day, it shocked me.  I had only about 4-hours remaining in the day without or outside technological-electronic usage.  And since I am a very social person, I know MY total hours are most likely a larger amount than many people.  That’s four hours out of a non-refundable 24-hours!

What might that indicate about the quality of human interaction per day?  If these amounts are exponentially greater during the winter holidays, particularly internet phones, what does that indicate about quality face-to-face human interaction in November, during Thanksgiving and after?  During mid and late December through the New Year – especially my Texas relatives where collegiate and NFL football is a bigger religion than God or church – most eyes and ears were on the television!?  Now today, it can be just as much internet cell phones too.  What is Thanksgiving and December like for your friends and family?

Albert Einstein was really on to something!
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The Sweet Past of Human Interaction

I have a deep fondness for the Victorian Age (Britain), the Belle Époque (France & Belgium), and the Gilded Age (United States), all between the 1850’s to 1920’s.  From this era came some of mankind’s greatest works of art, music, literature, fashion, theater, scientific innovation, and political reform.  For the most part it was the pinnacle of refined sensibilities not seen since the Renaissance.  When I read such works by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Oscar Wilde, I imagine myself in the same room transfixed on their dialogue and banter over glasses of cognac and wine in plush wing-back armchairs.  Oh to be a time-traveler.

I feel that must have been the Golden Age of Discourse and Articulation where every word, every gesture was weighted and packed with broad-brushes of wit, enlightened sophistication and bold adventure; truly, an age in the art of conversation.  There were very few automobiles and very few telephones to steal away their time from human interaction, so they excelled at those virtues and sensibilities.

Growing up as a boy in the late 60’s through the 80’s the television or stereo were the two electronic items that could take away time from my neighborhood friends.  My two best friends and I would always play games, build things, or tinker with things outside together.  During the Christmas-New Year holidays, my six to eleven different cousins and I would play in tree-houses, versions of hide-n-seek, or our favorite…bottle-rocket wars.  Those special times of year are some of my most cherished lasting childhood memories.  None of them, not one single memory involves any sort of electronics or machines, other than perhaps bicycles, zip-lines, garring spears (for garpike), fishing poles, and crab-traps.  Much of those holiday times with all my multiple cousins were full of tricks, gags, and bust-a-gut laughter.  Very little time was ever lost in front of the televisions.

Then in the 1980’s came the personal computer, mobile phones, and the world-wide-web.  The age of face-to-face youthful interaction in America was never again the same.  As if the personal automobile and home television didn’t eat up enough of our daily lives, the dwindling hours would become divided and diminished more by those inanimate devices and objects with ever-increasing sophistication and attention.


Now that I am a parent and some of my fellow schoolmates are grandparents, how much does current technology consume our busy lives?  Do you think it is much different or greatly different from the 1970’s and 80’s?  What about the 1950’s, or more in contrast the Golden Age of Discourse and Articulation of the 1890’s and 1900’s?  How would you describe the contrasting eras in terms of quality human interaction and daily consumptions?

christmas kids games

Non-electronic family games

As I reflect back on my many, many past holidays, I have seen, to put it mildly, a noticeable increase of bombardment by commercialism into and onto every possible electronic device in our homes and personal lives…all ferociously vying for our attention during our waning precious 17-15 conscious hours.  During November and December the veracity becomes like relentless swarming sharks attacking and devouring.  Unless one knows how to get out of the water completely so-to-speak, the insatiable sharks WILL take all twenty-four hours of your day and night, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year.  Sharks, like electronic devices or machines, have no moral or ethical conscience or shame.

It would be unrealistic for me to demand we return to the Beautiful Age of Human Discourse and Interaction, especially during the holiday season.  But how I long to see and hear the hours upon hours of face-to-face enjoyable, stimulating, funny, and challenging conversation WITHOUT any electronic device present or attention-dividing machine.

For me, those touchable face-to-face interactions are the sweetest times and memories a human being could ever have, especially when December brings good friends and family together.  Guard them.  Fight not only for their survival, but protect and fight for their value in human essence!

Wishing everyone the best and most significantly human interactive 2014 possible!

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29 thoughts on “The Sweet & Sour of Decembers

  1. Nice post, Professor. Very thought provoking. People tend to yearn for connection. They will get it one way or the other. I think that we can easily romanticize the past if we are to imagine ourselves as white, privileged males. Otherwise, the past saw horrific inhumanity with very little quality interaction. Hell, even our founding fathers had issues with getting along with each other, lol. I think you hit the nail on the head when you used the term ‘quality’.

    I totally get your assertion that technology can interrupt ‘quality’ face to face interactions. But I also think it is a 21 Century tool that will be used to tap into our core, empathic nature and beneficially spread like an technological virus.

    Btw, I’m not a huge fan of talking on the cell phone for various reasons. But I will say that when I’m talking on the cell or skype, it does feel like I’m communicating face to face. Funny enough, I see it in my mind’s eye.

    Btw, when my dad was visiting from out-of-state, I spent more time with him than did my sister. He spent most of his time texting, lol. He’s in his mid-70’s. 😉


    • “Quality.” Yes Victoria, every human needs the ‘human touch’ at some point or another. The scientific pediatric data speaks volumes on infants or children who do not receive any or too little. Adults require it as well. If we’re not acutely aware of that quality, I feel other problems develop.

      The “horrific inhumanity” is part of what Einstein was referring as you correctly point out. You’ve brought up an excellent technological solution to the issue of inanimate interaction: SKYPE. That is a wonderful (with some limitations) electronic application to improve the dwindling human connection. And some of the core empathic nature of humanity is most definitely benefited by speedy global connection via the internet! Knowledge, innovation, increased awareness, all have doubled, tripled or more, over the last 5-10 years due to the WWW! How is that not incredible for the common less-privileged person?!

      Here’s something to think about though Victoria. In building a significant solid foundation in relationships, particularly romantic and familial, some tools, certain methods or protocol (no pun intended) are irreplaceable. Agreed? If those electronic tools are not available due to a blackout, or solar burst (which NASA states will render all electronics & electronically driven machines useless), to name just two failures, for a long period or decades, then what? If one’s relationships are built upon electronika to some extent, then what does that say about the reality of that foundation? This concern applies to other tools used in constructing familial and romantic relationships as well. Make sense?

      Your dad sounds like a 70-year old teenager. LOL 😉


      • I concur about the human contact and touch and trust building. The studies, the evidence is solid. It is essential for healthy brain development. I am concerned about the very young being exposed to technology too early for several reasons, one being that it literally changes the brain. I’ve posted about this in earlier blog posts in 2012. I recommend a TED talk from a research neuroscientist, pediatrician, and a parent. So we are definitely on the same page here. Hey, if you really want sour, check out an article I posted titled “How culture affects the brain”.

        Still, I have hope for humanity. Have I wished you a Happy New Year yet?

        Happy New Year, Professor.

        Btw, I think you would love the series “Connections” (see link below). Hopefully you’ll have time to watch the series. You mentioning the possibility of getting hit by a geoeffective coronal mass ejection (X class flare) causing a G5 geomagnetic storm that knocks out communication, transportation and power, most technology on a mass scale, is something to also take seriously. We are overdue for one like the Carrington Event in 1859.

        We are living in a technological trap, as noted in the doc, with basically having no backup systems or protections. I think how we react will depend on the culture we live in. Less peaceful cultures, including the U.S., will act less peaceful.

        I’ll leave the series documentary, by James Burke, with you just in case you want to add this to your “watch when I have time” list.

        I especially recommend the first 10 series (top row). Since you are a history buff you will, I think, get into this. Some of the things you mentioned are addressed in this doc series.



  2. “We are so overwhelmed with things these days that our lives are all, more or less, cluttered…Everyone is hurrying and usually just a little late. Notice the faces of the people who rush past on the streets…They nearly all have a strained, harassed look, and anyone you meet will tell you there is no time for anything anymore.”

    Written in 1924 by Laura Ingalls Wilder—while living on a farm in rural Missouri. 😀

    Btw, your post reminded me of a decent comedy I watched not long ago about a guy who had ‘Good Old Day Syndrome”, and got to experience time travel while visiting Paris, meeting famous writers of that err (20’s) in casuals face-to-face settings. I think you’d like and perhaps resonate with this Woody Allen movie. “Midnight in Paris”.

    Also, while I’m still rambling, lol, did you ever watch the 1995 movie “Powder”? Your quote attributed to Einstein reminded me of that movie and a particular scene where it was first attributed to Einstein, (though we have no evidence he said it) following a reply from another character in the movie who said “I think that someday our humanity might actually surpass our technology.”

    One can hope. 🙂


    • This 2nd comment put a HUGE smile on my face Victoria! Thank you for sharing it!

      I absolutely LOVE the Laura Ingalls Wilder quote! 1924 huh? Wow! I get tingly all over when I conceptualize and piece together the morphing and blurring of time-space traveling! Some Quantum laws will likely never change will they? 😉

      Hah! Midnight in Paris was a movie I enjoyed immensely! Anything based on time-travel I am hopelessly engrossed. And Powder I have also seen, yes. I’m aware the quote is possibly unattributable, but nonetheless, it oozes with principle. Reversing the quote would have to be the beginning of another enlightenment, yes? Imagine what the world would be like if BOTH components were intensely balanced and perpetually complimentary.


  3. “It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.”

    I’ve been letting that sentence marinate in my brain, and here’s what I’ve come up with. To me, it’s especially evident in the current communications technologies that people are slowly losing their ability to internalize and humanize their reactions to the world at large.

    They’ve learned to distance themselves through technology by leaning on artificial communications. They’ve lost the art of understanding inflection and nuance. They’ve hardened their hearts to the tragic events by rationalizing that it couldn’t possibly happen to them, that the bad is far from their immediate scope of impact. They’ve become desensitized as they are constantly inundated with all the bad through tv, computer, etc…and media has enjoyed the focus on the bad (and sensationalizing much of it, purely for shock value). Rarely do we see the good that could warm or soften the heart or make people think there is hope…or that the world may not be as scary a place…so people keep their walls up and walk on by their fellow man rather than get involved.

    I’m sure there are a zillion other ways that the above statement can be validated, but these things are the ones that have left my heart aching the most.

    Saw this video earlier this year and thought it said a lot…


    • Kitt — great stuff, perfect video! Thank you.

      Another aspect of “dehumanizing” via electronics or tech-machines you made me think of is how people perceive themselves inside their personal automobiles too, particularly in congested traffic. For whatever reason(s) drivers feel they can be more rude or discourteous on the road than they would otherwise be in person face-to-face. I’ve always found that strangely peculiar! Why!? LOL

      And this seems to be the case sometimes on the internet — for instance on forums or dating-sites, profiles and comments are sometimes misrepresentations to some small or large degrees! In some cases when I was a member on one or two particular “dating” sites, women totally mislead me with their photos! In the first week or so of being on the site, I purposely did not demand photos of her — several full-bodied photos because I’m a former athlete & care about fitness/health! — because I didn’t want to be perceived as a shallow man who cared more about the ‘physical’ than other aspects of a person/woman. Wow was that a HUGE mistake on my part! 😮

      My post The Illusion Game speaks to this!

      You can’t hide much fact-to-face can you? The more inanimate the “connections” are…the less genuine, or the more temptation there is for a person to hide or divert. Not so face-to-face.


      • Oh, the driving one… So very true. I think people assume because they can drive away and won’t have to face the person that they can be jerks, try to impress the girl/guy in the passenger seat with their toughness/testosterone. I have cracked up on the rare occasions that those jerks have been forced to come face to face with someone they’ve been rude to because they were going to the same place or the other party has taken them up on their threats. The back down & drive away usually happens extremely quickly. (Not that I encourage the confrontation as it’s all road rage-y & can get dangerous)

        And as for the dating sites? Don’t get me started. Instant Messanger apps can be just as bad… Guys sending their “organs” to women unsolicited. Women sending pics from 20 years ago…or friends’ pics. Yeah….


      • “You can’t hide much fact-to-face can you? The more inanimate the “connections” are….the less genuine, or the more temptation there is for a person to hide or divert. Not so face-to-face.”

        Professor, that made me think about why people are more likely to hide or divert online. It’s because many cultures are shame cultures. Research shows that bullying increases in shame cultures.

        About online dating, perhaps you didn’t make yourself clear that what you really wanted was a woman who was in fit shape or perhaps more specific, say the body type and looks you prefer. But you don’t do that because you will most likely be shamed, deemed shallow, just after her for one thing. And of course these particular woman didn’t show their ‘real’ pictures because perhaps they felt shame that they didn’t ‘measure up’ physically. Just maybe if you saw their ‘insides’ you would want to know ‘them’, they think to themselves. Who knows, but I do agree with the research that we live in a shame culture here in the U.S., and that, I believe, affects authentic connections, whether that is in the workplace, in your own environment, in public, or online.

        Another thought provoking post, D. HNY.


        • Ahhhh Victoria! You hit the nail on the head and damn well drove it to China! That’s what I love about you and your candor! 😉

          Shame cultured. How so unbelievably true and precise that is! And should you and I get started on the ORIGINS of that shaming?
          *pulls out calculator and subtracts 1,689 from 2,014 for the approximate year it took hold in the Western Hemisphere!*

          Exact location? Oh, beginning in Asia Minor and then westward to a town called “Romae”, then to a town near you. 😉

          Btw, Happy New Year to you too!


  4. I hear you, Professor. I myself often long for a world where my interest of novels and complex discussions about the social structures of society isn’t odd. But at the same time, I’m a child of my generation, and we like taking information for granted, so I cannot really imagine a life without it. Knowledge is power after all.

    Perhaps we should get ourselves a grand mansion somewhere in the nowhere of Scotland and just entertain ourselves with intellectuality and social relationships? I’d like that. Then I could have a library.


    • “…taking information for granted”? In other words, sponging in knowledge and wisdom but then doing nothing with it, as if it is just filler, fluff? Is that sort of what you mean? *rubs chin with puzzled look*

      Oooooo, a grande mansion/castle (with a dungeon of course!) with a vast library of all the great authors, art gallery (for you my Dear), and certain specific “servants”, huh? Yeah, I’m SO diggin this Scottish landscape! 😀


      • Yes, that is exactly what I mean. We don’t have to absorb or digest information because we carry it with us at all times. It is very unfortunate, but I don’t have a suggestion on how to change that.

        Oh! That sounds lovely! I suggest we move right away! I’m going to read two courses on Victorian fiction this spring, so the Scottish landscape would be a very good setting for my studies!


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