Saturday, December 29, 2007

Life in America

We can divide daily existence into three modes: 1. the time we spend directly and immediately immersed in the world in some specific activity such as working, fishing, driving, planting, reaping, rowing, watching TV, whatever; 2. the "personal" time we spend in reflection, self-observation, thought, or just plain mindlessness; 3. the time we spend with others, in social interaction of all sorts. Often we are in all three modes at once, like talking to a fellow worker while running the forklift or losing ourselves through hours of flipping through the TV stations with a friend.

Life in modern America provides a neutral context for our existence; neutral in the sense that the space exists for whatever we need or choose to do. The activities we pursue are constrained by what it is we physically do as work and to make our way through the day and by what is available to us. But our activities are slotted into our existence pretty much free of taboos, traditions, history and culture. The biggest determining factor here is our personal wealth (which offers lesser or greater variety of needful and possible activities) and the current technology. Our leisure time -- for example -- is now often watching TV. Before TV, we passed our mindless leisure time in other ways, though there was probably less of it because with increasing modernity, we have in general gained more leisure time, as well as more ways to use it. Indeed, what we DO is subject to constant change as a result of “progress.” We work with and entertain ourselves through an ever-expanding number of technologies and devices. Yet, and here finally is my point, while what we DO can look pretty "modern" -- because what we do it with is “cutting edge” -- the neutral context in which we live allows us to continue to live in a variety of traditional and self enclosed environments when we are in our personal and social modes. That is to say, we may drive cars, watch DVDs, and play video games but we still live within an assemblage of patterned existences that goes straight back to the medieval life of town and country. Many of us are still peasants.