Social Skills in the 21st Century

 

 

Full disclosure; some may dismiss my remarks as being those of just another old curmudgeon but that’s disingenuous. And even though I came of age in another era, I believe that the core of social skills remains the same even though they’re becoming rarer in these times. It gives me little pleasure & no comfort to note how different the “socializing” of today’s youth is from when I was a young man.

remember the argument against homeschooling i.e. they need to develop social skills???

 

First on my hit list of things that I believe are having a deleterious effect on the young people of today is the “smart phone.” Everywhere I go, I see young people & increasingly, middle-aged people with their eyes glued to their “smart phones.” It’s like they’re cult members or zombies addicted to this techno-drug. And it saddens me to see so many people not interacting with one another because of their obsession with their gadgets. Perhaps these portable entertainment centers will serve them well as the corporate cockroaches slowly poison & strangle our natural environment? When all the trees have been felled, all waterways have become so polluted that it’s no longer safe to swim in any of them, when our air is so toxic that the entire human population is forced to wear masks like in China’s industrial zones, watching video clips of the days when humanity was nurtured by the real deal will have to suffice?

 

One of my pet peeves is when I’ll be involved in a conversation with a young person & their smart phone rings and they simply answer their phone & engage in a conversation, sometimes at length, with their “friend,” and leave me sitting there with no apology. It says to me that my feelings & my time is insignificant and reveals how pernicious the grip on their attention their phone has become. This is the height of rudeness & inconsiderate behavior in my opinion. And when this occurs, I will often just get up and leave to the surprise & amazement of my young acquaintance. They have no idea of why I left and if you have to tell them why, what’s the point?

 

Continuing on, I am personally disappointed in myself for allowing myself to get sucked into the Facebook orbit & its near universal capture of the younger generation. My gut told me long before I ever succumbed to its temptation, this is a platform for teenage girls and I resisted joining it for several years. But, a cousin of mine told me that it was how I could connect with relatives I’ve never met—which by-the-way, never panned-out—and I soon became addicted to the political posts.

 

You see, I have become obsessed with politics over the past 30 years or better & have conservatively invested over 50,000 hours or more in reading, researching, & writing about politics. And with Facebook, I deluded myself into believing that I had a real platform from which to speak and be heard. I would get an encouraging sentence or two every now & then, just enough to keep me going and God knows how much time & energy I invested in writing lengthy responses, observations, etc. on political issues over the several years I was a Facebook zombie?

 

I’ve always been a bit slow—perhaps that’s why I was a good fit as a teaching assistant in the special education field—but after the introduction of the emoticons as a way for people to “communicate” their responses on complex social & political issues, I slowly became more & more disillusioned. I finally saw the light after several, self-imposed exiles from this “Social media” megalith and had to accept the reality that my absence didn’t mean shit to my 3,000 or better “friends.” A couple of months ago, I finally took the leap of faith to sanity and permanently deleted my Facebook account after saving my history. Who knows, there may be something worthwhile to write about there?

 

Okay, onward & upward my fellow freedom fighters! You may be tempted to write me off as just another one of those Alex Jones conspiratorial nut-jobs like Donald of the Duck Dynasty Klan but bear with me if you will? I’m not claiming that this is an overt or covert conspiracy on the part of the government but in terms of the harmful effects of the “social media” & the technological gadgets absorbing more & more of our attention, it may as well be a conspiracy. And the irony of calling these devices “smart phones,” would be hilarious if not for the fact that they are seriously undermining our ability to communicate with one another because of their built-in superficiality & manipulative functions.

 

Look up Tristan Harris if you doubt what I’m saying? He was high up on the food chain so-to-speak, in the Google corporation & has laid it out very succinctly i.e. smart phones are like mini slot machines in our pockets that people are becoming addicted to like gamblers addicted to gambling.

Obviously, reading is becoming an artifact from the past. Just do a brief search of Americans’ reading habits & the sad statistics that reveal how few of us have actually read a single book in the past year. The visual i.e. video clips, movies, video games, etc. has become the overwhelmingly favored mode of “learning” and “entertainment.” And returning to the subject of “smart phones,” this reminds me of another aggravating thing about them i.e. I’ll be having a conversation with someone & if I ask them a question about a subject or person or etc. that they’re not familiar with, they’ll pull out their smart phone to look it up. I try to politely tell them that I’m not interested in what their computer has to say on the subject & that they’re not being graded by me on our conversation. Sadly, far too many people today seem to believe that if it’s on the Internet, it’s a fact. But I’m old enough to remember the acronym G.I.G.O. (Garbage In, Garbage Out) i.e. just because someone entered the data on the Internet doesn’t make it truth or a fact. We have allowed ourselves to become slaves to the machines we’ve created & people have all but lost completely, the ability to think critically or analytically for themselves. And how convenient this all is for the corporate cockroaches who only have one agenda i.e. sell us as much of their crap as they possibly can!

 

Furthermore, thanks in large part to the beloved Bill Clinton & his signing of NAFTA into law, manufacturing which used to be a major part of our economy, has mostly disappeared from America so the powers that be aren’t really worried about worker strikes, etc. So, where do they think we’re going to get the money to buy their crappy products? And with their polarization of the public so effectively done by Trump with his hateful xenophobic rhetoric, along with our increasing isolation thanks to our smart phones, the status quo is smugly kicking back in their executive suites with their feet up on the table laughing at our gullibility.

 

This onslaught against working class Americans in particular & the public in general really became pronounced when Reagan became president. Exhibit A, one of Reagan’s first acts after becoming president was to fire the air traffic controllers who were on strike, for life. This sent a clear message to corporate America i.e. it’s open season on unions. And when Reagan proclaimed that the 1980s were the “Me Decade,” it was again evident that he & the G.O.P. were all about greed & selfishness and their “philosophy” was that of Ayn Rand’s. Do I need to remind you of that minor hiccup we experienced in 2008 when the world’s economy imploded thanks to the greed of bankers, hedge fund managers, the credit agencies, lack of regulations & enforcement of the regulations that were on the books, etc.? Yeah, a universal collapse that cost tens of millions of people to lose their homes, their pensions, their health insurance, their jobs, their life savings & their self-respect. So now when people tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I say, so none of the things I just mentioned above matter to you?

 

In today’s America, I rarely hear we or us, it’s usually me or I. Consider the very name of one of the most popular tech gadgets, the “i-Phone.” And they also offer the iPad, the iTablet, and God knows how many other “I” products? Get what I’m saying? It’s all about normalizing the glorification of the individual & selfishness or self-centeredness. Still not convinced? Consider the fact that Apple through clever tax avoidance schemes & loopholes takes advantage of Ireland’s low corporate tax rate of 3% to avoid the 35% it’d have to pay if it were honest in America. Again, greed is good & the hell with the public’s general welfare. We, the U.S. taxpayers pay our taxes because we can’t afford expensive whores like the corporate lawyers Apple pays to keep their profits growing. Never mind the fact that our taxes pay for the roads, highways, bridges, airports, ports, police, fire depts., military, etc. that these corporations rely on to conduct their business operations here in the U.S. even though they claim their headquarters are the P.O. Box they have in the Cayman Islands, etc.

 

I could go on and on about corporate corruption but I’ll try to refrain from doing so here. The point is that selfishness, which used to be considered a negative trait, has now become almost glorified or at least accepted as perfectly normal. Referring back to Reagan’s reign of error & terror, homelessness in America got a big start when Reagan closed down most state mental hospitals.. And for many, they became homeless because of medical bills or their companies closing down. Again, it was the greed & heartlessness of the corporate CEOs of the companies they worked for.

 

Moreover, this isn’t a partisan issue, Clinton also signed the bill that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act which FDR signed into law. If you aren’t familiar with it, it forbid commercial banks to make risky, speculative loans with people’s savings. And this too was a significant factor in the U.S. economic crash & the ripple effects in the world economy as a whole. Greed is just as popular and common in the democratic party as it is in the republican party.

 

Where has our humanity, our compassion for our fellow human beings, our empathy for others’ suffering, humiliation, & degradation gone to? Will you only care when it happens to you or a loved one? By then it’ll be too late. United we stand and divided we fall and division is what the corporate cockroaches are all about i.e. the centuries old strategy of divide & conquer.

 

It’d be laughable if it weren’t so damn serious that these “social media” are the antithesis of helping us to become more social beings. But I know that you’re probably still skeptical of my thesis and perhaps you will simply dismiss me as an alarmist or conspiracy nut so here are a couple of guys, one who is considered the father of Virtual Reality & a veteran of Silicon Valley and the other who was a part of the original team at Facebook;

and

Admittedly, I should emulate my intellectual hero, Noam Chomsky & read the New York Times and several other notable newspapers but my disillusionment with them was so deep that I turned against them decades ago. I get my news from the alternative media (not alternate facts but honest, in depth reporting) like Democracy Now! And Ian Masters on Background Briefing. I bring this up because I too was allowing myself to be manipulated by many of the “news” posts on Facebook but after it was revealed that Facebook sold our data to companies like Cambridge Analytica which played a major role in the election of Trump, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me & directly led to my escape from Facebook forever. Sadly, most Americans get their news from Facebook & not even having a modicum of critical or analytical thinking skills (I was an educator for over 20 years) they are easily manipulated by deceitful propagandists like Steve Bannon & FOX “News.”

 

In a nutshell, “social media” has taken over the role of mainstream media in terms of training us to be fearful of our government, fearful of our bosses i.e. will they fire me for something I wrote or posted on Facebook, etc.? fearful of terrorists, fearful of Muslims, etc. etc. etc. As I touched on earlier, people using these social media don’t want to have intelligent, fair debates on the serious issues facing us. No, they want to express their fears, their prejudices, their hate. And most are too lazy to even read more than a sentence, let alone respond in a calm, reasoned manner.

 

Obviously not only the corporations but also the U.S. government’s surveillance agencies like the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the N.S.A. and etc. are all tapping into our social media accounts & building detailed files on all of us. If you don’t know this by now, you must’ve been living in one of those caves that Osama bin Laden supposedly hid-out in. And please excuse me for a brief visit to Alex Jones land but how convenient for the masters of the universe who have access to all our personal histories. As Snowden pointed out, it’s all about control. Some theorize that should you become a problem to the powers that be, all they have to do is bring up all your personal history & build a case against you from there should they want to silence you.

 

Okay, back to my thesis. The reality we (not the 1% born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths) are faced with the fact that every last vestige of the “social safety net” that FDR established after the colossal harms done to us by the Robber Barons, is being slashed again & again & again. The Republicans have been very public about their opposition to the New Deal & have been doing everything in their power since it was established to totally eliminate every last vestige of it and have been largely successful in doing so. Trump is doing his best to help in their destruction & the simpletons who support him haven’t a clue.

 

Another aspect or result of our obsession with smart phones & social media is that they have become our shelter, the place we go to in search of solace & comfort. Have you ever noticed someone sitting alone in a café & how they attempt to escape their feeling of loneliness by bringing out their smart phone? This is yet another example of the closed, doom-loop system that is engulfing us.

 

We have Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and a president who twitters like Tweedle-Dee & Tweedle-Dum rather than read a book on history or politics, etc. etc. etc. I can’t even keep up with all this nonsense nor do I care to. We’re so alone but we have convinced ourselves that we’re not really alone because we have thousands of “friends” on Facebook, etc. Artificial reality, alternate facts, alternate reality? Where does it all end if we don’t take a cold, hard, honest look at our lives and our values?

 

Consider if you will, the fact that the tax rate on the super wealthy was 91% under President Eisenhower’s term in office and today, it is under 14% and many of them have found loopholes so that they don’t even pay that. I bring this up to highlight the fact that there will never be enough personal wealth for them & therefore they keep finding ever more ways to take every last dime in our pockets. And because most Americans have been reduced to working two, three, four or more minimum wage jobs in their desperate attempts to avoid becoming homeless, one of the few remaining ways the wealthy can still profit from our desperation is by locking us up in their prisons for profit which have the additional benefit of forcing prisoners to work for private corporations like:

 

American Express Company, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan & Company, Allstate Insurance Company, GEICO, ExxonMobil Corporation, BP America, Johnson & Johnson, Sara Lee Corporation, Procter & Gamble, Sprint, AT&T, Verizon Communications, United Airlines, Wendy’s, McDonalds Corporation, Fruit of the Loom, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Quaker Oats and Microsoft.

 

And you thought the old chain-gang days where prisoners had to dig ditches, work for farmers, etc. were over? Yeah, welcome to America, the land where the rich are above the law & the free market is a bed-time story for the ignorant masses. Yeah, some prisoners earn as much as $1.15 per day but then the phone company charges them outrageous rates for personal phone calls which pretty much nullifies that.

 

Continuing on, every which way we turn, it’s all about quantity, not quality. How much money we make, how many friends we have, how expensive our clothes, our cars, our food, etc. is. How much time we saved on our drive to work. How fast our communications are not the quality of that communication just the speed. As a society, America is among the dumbest in the so-called “developed world.” Consider who’s representing us in the oval office. Every time he speaks, I feel nauseous or like someone is scratching a blackboard with their fingernails.

 

The vast Midwest has become a series of ghost towns because they were usually one company towns & when their CEOs realized they could make a lot more profit by shutting down and moving to countries where people are so desperately poor that they’ll work for a couple of dollars per day, they abandoned their loyal employees in the blink of an eye. And cities like New York & L.A. have become too expensive for the vast majority of us to live in. Mind you, I have nothing against someone who works hard & becomes rich except when they do so by lying, cheating, stealing & in general destroying people’s lives in order to become obscenely wealthy.

In conclusion, I’ve spent my life informing myself. I’ve been an avid reader since I was in the first grade & for the past 30 years or better, I guesstimate that I’ve spent at least 50,000 hours reading books on history, politics, philosophy, etc. and making copious notes in many of the books in my extensive library. I’ve watched countless documentaries, listened to political & social speakers, written hundreds of essays & over 4,000 pages on two major books I’m writing, etc. etc. etc. but I have nowhere to turn to for social interaction.

 

In fact, this reminds me of an amusing anecdote. As I mentioned earlier, I have been corresponding with Chomsky for the past 13 years, well in one of our exchanges, I complained about the social taboo against speaking about politics in bars & Noam wasn’t aware of it. Yeah, that caused me to chuckle but it depresses the hell out of me because the few times I have gotten away with talking about politics in bars, I saw people’s eyes light up & they became very animated and really enjoyed the conversation. Some have even said that it was the best conversation they’d had in years. Is it merely another “coincidence” that we’re not allowed to talk about politics in bars? Think about it, how convenient for the powers that be i.e. if the working class can’t share their thoughts on how they’re being screwed, it makes it easier to control them? Where else in our society can people gather & freely exchange their ideas, thoughts, worries, etc.?

 

But like babies in their cribs with those colorful mobiles with animals & sparkly objects to draw their attention, we have our smart phones to distract us from our troubles. And our cribs have invisible bars that surround us. I still keep spitting in the wind so-to-speak by posting new essays on my blog that no one reads or comments on. And just before I hit the publish button, I am told again & again that my writing is too difficult, that I should write simpler sentences and should write on trendy topics. Fuck that! Our collective apathy & intellectual laziness will be our downfall and we may very well end-up living in a version of Mad Max’s world. As for me, I escaped from L.A. with my wife & son over 25 years ago. We moved to Portland, Oregon and it was a great new life for a while but my wife & I drifted apart and she passed away five years ago now. So, I move up and down the coast in my RV staying for six months or so in one little coastal town after another but I may as well be living alone on a deserted island for all the social interaction I get. Paradise isn’t so pretty when you have no one to share it with & no one to talk to!

 

—Rob DeLoss, St. Patrick’s Day 2019 in Trinidad, California

 

P.S.  My wife always took the time to read my work and give me constructive feedback even though she was always swamped with paperwork because she was a Special Education teacher. And even though we were divorced, I never refer to her as my ex-wife because there was nothing “ex” about her. She was truly my best friend and we never stopped caring about each other.

 

 

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A Writer without Readers is like an Actor without an audience.