A good society

I love you guys. Seriously, you continue to inspire and provoke and without YOU (yes, even YOU) then this blog would have died a long time ago.

Specifically looking at the comments left yesterday, I’m dead chuffed that you took my somewhat hastily written post and turned it into a discussion about the current decline in social values. Take THAT Jakob!

OK, platitudes out of the way, I wanted to pick up on something Blue Witch said, namely that the internet is creating a largely insular society:

Isn’t it a pity that people have time to spend on things like this, but not on befriending, for example, the lonely old person who lives next door but one to them?

Just *think* what could be done with the combined amount of time that is spent every day on things like this. *sighs*

Part of me nodded along in agreement whilst I read this, but then I’d suggest that if part of me didn’t agree with this then I am in danger of becoming a very sad excuse for a human being. Without social interaction, physical and emotional connections with other human beings, society would cease to exist. Or something like that, I need to re-read my Plato or Marx … or some other person who probably spent most of his time huddled over a manuscript.

However, in trying to find a balance to this discussion &emdash;as is the wont of a Libran&emdash; I wonder if the reality of what we have now should even be contemplated against the society we think we used to have.

Is it possible that the main reason we have more consumers, and a decrease in the value of our society*, is purely because there are more things to consume? The internet has allowed many many more people to contribute, so obviously the number of people, and the time they spend hunched at the computer, has grown.

Does that automatically mean that society is now losing out?

I’m not convinced. I guess it comes down to how many people have switched modes, changed how they live life from being a contributor to being a consumer. Of course we need to define what a contributor does, but from personal experience I think that people contribute for very personal reasons, and I doubt the people who have volunteered their time in the past, would stop all of a sudden. That’s not to say there isn’t a slow drain going on though..

It’s hard to judge, especially as the news is full of evidence that society is on the decline.

There are, of course, measures we can take but those, in turn, beginning to edge us towards discussions of 1984. Another question would then be how far we can hold civil liberties, as those very “liberties” may be bringing about changes to our “civility” that need addressed?

It’s a complicated matter, no doubt.

So, with all of that in mind, come back tomorrow for a post titled “My Mother is an idiot”. And don’t worry, she’s already seen it… I’m not that daft, or brave.

* broadly speaking I think we can all agree that a “good” society has less crime, and a more civil attitude towards our fellow (wo)man, etc etc.

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Long time blogger, Father of Jack, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense.

Doing my best to find a balance.

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25 Years

Hello 2024

It’s that time of year again


I had a conversation recently about something along these lines and unsurprisingly have some thoughts on the matter. But the first thing to establish is this: in what ways can we measure the “dececrease in value of our society” and how can we actually know if we are currently in a worse position than x number of years ago? Is actually a fact that things are worse now or merely our perception tinted with 20/20 hindsight through rose tinted glasses?

Must go to work!

Not just to be contrary, but I wonder if the reason for the decline in civility is linked more to the increase in *work*. 30 years ago, the average person worked shorter hours, and commuted less, leaving more time for social niceties. Many families could afford to be single-income households, which allowed the stay-at-home partner to be even more social (in turn opening up social opportunities for the working partner).

The pace at work is perhaps higher than it was 30 years ago. IT means everybody has to get more done, despite computers falling short of their promise to make our lives easier at work (I still like working on paper).

Nowadays, perhaps there’s not enough time left in the week to be social. A quick SMS on the way home is about all I manage. “Hey, how’s it going? Haven’t seen you in ages. We should do something soon!” I write, but know that my Google Calendar is full.

Two words Mark – downshifting and expectation.

It *is* still possible for your recollection of what happened in the past to happen: Many families could afford to be single-income households, which allowed the stay-at-home partner to be even more social (in turn opening up social opportunities for the working partner). It depends where one’s priorities and values reside, and how much one buys-in to consumerism.

BW: I believe in downshifting totally: take control of your life and decide what you need and what you really want, and then work to provide that.

We have discussed other options at home as well, for example, reduced work: that we might both work, for example, 80% (4 days per week, or 5 shorter days). Maybe even less. However, we can’t afford to do that right now. Maybe in a year or two.

BW: in our house, we rely on both of us working hard (i.e. long hours) to maintain the life we enjoy. That includes enjoying the fruits of consumerism and being able to afford to travel to see friends who may be far afield, as well as having a comfortable home (vital, we think), good food and drink (important to us) and so on. Most households spend a greater proportion of their income on mortgage/rent now that at any time in British history, so it is unsurprising that people are working longer and harder.

Gordon: I feel there’s a "but, but" coming. My main thought is that, yes, people might get out more if they got away from their computers. But also, the sheer diversity and quantity (if not always quality) of information that streams into our synapses via this medium does empower us more, even if that empowerment takes many forms. It may be that it simply empowers us to get a better deal on a new CD player or cheaper electricty, but it may also empower us to be more aware of the wider world, more aware of someone else’s point of view, more aware of how other people live. I’m reminded of Albert Kahn’s photography collection – his mission to bring peace to nations by increasing mutual understanding using the (at the time) new technology of colour still and moving pictures. With today’s technology, one does not need to be a millionaire businessman to have access but one can still use the technology, either passively or actively, to increase knowledge. Kahn’s philosophy was that through knowledge comes understanding and through understanding comes peace. That’s got to be a good end.

Mind you, if all you do in front of a computer is play games and look at pictures of kittens, then that’s a different story!

BW – I know your opinions on downshifting and that you believe it is possible. I can’t see how it is as possible as you think for a lot of people. My other half has recently given up work entirely to stay at home with our son (and given that she was only working part time before and after he was born, this is not a huge downshift from full time anyway). We have gone through the figures and have consolidated everything we possibly can and worked out all our living costs and we can afford it but only as long as I keep a contract earning what something around what I currently do.

Unlike Graybo, we have removed any aspects of consumerism from our budget as far as reasonably possible – so no going out, no takeaways, no new books/magazines/cds/dvds etc. no alcohol (this isn’t going too well), no new clothes, no race entries for me, visiting friends who live far away rarely and so on. We’ve also got to hope that we have no unexpected problems with the car or the house. We’re going to struggle to make pension payments (if at all) and to put a full amount of money into our son’s CTF each year.

We can do this because I am (currently) paid well enough to do so. I can’t, however, afford to look for a more secure permanent job (unless it pays well which at the moment they tend not to) or take holidays or take sick days. I can’t imagine how someone who earns an “average” wage would ever dream of being able to do this. Except, of course, that they probably couldn’t afford their own house these days.

Mark – excellent, and good luck with a further extension!

graybo – I think you perfectly illustate the point I was making. You want the lifestyle and the goodies so you have to do the hours. Of course, there are ways to cut one’s mortgage… But, it’s a very personal choice, adn while one is happy with one’s lot, then great.

Dragon – I’ll bet that I could find you some more ways to save 🙂 (I currently have 4 success stories of local people who said it was impossible!) Is the answer to relocate to a cheaper area, with different opportunities, or does that just not work with what you do?

mum says:

Mark -’30 years ago the average person worked shorter hours and commuted less leaving more time for social niceties’ –
as a person who was working 30/35 years ago I can assure you I was not working shorter hours. I was also spending longer getting to and from work as I was dependant on public transport followed by a 20 minute walk. Once home any paperwork I had to do often took into the small hours to complete by hand with pen and paper. With very few ‘labour saving devices’, housework took much longer and shopping entailed almost daily visits to many small shops as we didn’t have so many supermarkets close by, nor a large freezer to keep the food in (sorry Gord – in which to keep food) By this time I was too tired for ‘social niceties’ and even if we could have summoned up the energy we couldn’t afford to eat out much – that was mainly for special occasions.
‘Many could afford to be single income households’
I think that should be ‘some’ not ‘many’ In days of high unemployment it was often not a matter of choice and sometimes it was the woman’s wage which was the single income and that would be smaller than the man’s – even if she was doing the same job.
We as a couple ‘chose’ to be a single income household for the simple reason that after some false starts in the baby making department we had a healthy child that we wanted to bring up ourselves, not have a stranger to see his first steps or hear his first word – dada( you had to be there) We could not ‘afford’ this step – it meant a lot of doing without ‘things’, Gran and Grandpa helped out with food – I ain’t kidding – and the odd tenner here and there. It was hard but I wouldn’t change a single bit of it.

Mark – re other options – if you can’t afford to do this NOW I bet you £1000 you never will.

Thanks, Gordon’s Mum. I stand corrected, and I don’t dare take you up on that bet.

Thinking back to my own childhood, up to the age of 17, my Mum was able to stay at home, and Dad came home from work between 5:30 and 6:00 five days a week, ready to help my sister and me with our homework. They both played golf, but ate out very rarely, and nearly never went out during the week. However, things were different in Ireland then. Houses were cheap (my parents were able to pay theirs off – something I can expect never to do). When my wife and I left Dublin six years ago, one whole salary (after tax) went on rent. We lived on the other (and supplemented it with credit cards during the last 6 months or so).

I think you can end a sentence with a preposition in English; it sounds like a rule from Latin grammar to me.

Gordon’s Mum – We as a couple ‘chose’ to be a single income household… We could not ‘afford’ this step – it meant a lot of doing without ‘things’, Gran and Grandpa helped out with food – I ain’t kidding – and the odd tenner here and there. It was hard but I wouldn’t change a single bit of it.

Thank you for providing a real-life example of how it was, and what made it possible. I think that a lot of people today have little appreciation or understanding of (and I’m not suggesting that many or even any of them read here, just making a point) the sacrifices that were made.

Many (actually most) of my friends are older than me, and my own parents went by my grandmother’s maxim of ‘cut your coat according to your cloth,’ so I consider myself very fortunate that I have a good understanding of how to exist on not much at all, while not going without much at all. As I said, how one chooses to live one’s life today depends where one’s priorities and values reside, and how much one buys-in to consumerism.

It worries me that, within a few years, living memory of how to manage on little without being unhappy will no longer exist.

So easy when you’re on a hundred quid an hour.

I don’t think the amount you earn has much to do with this, it’s more about your attitude towards what you value rather than the money you have.

Oh well. Tell that to the girl in the supermarket on the minimum wage. I’m sure her attitude will feed her kids bigtime.

Just watching Mrs Beckham on the telly. At least she admits she’s a wally.

Who said it was easy Peter?

Doesn’t mean that you CAN’T be happy, although yes, it does make it harder. But there are people, I know two off the top of my head, who work minimum wage (when they work at all) and don’t have any spare money for THINGS. One of those is easily one of the happiest people I know, he enjoys scrimping and saving, treats it like a challenge. He is happy.

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