In the past few weeks I have come across a variety of articles in a variety of magazine which have given me real pause for thought about what is happening in modern American - or perhaps Western - families. In our frenzy to become individuals and to strike out on our own and blaze our own path, there seems to be a growing trend to separate from loved ones and raise children in little cocoons of isolation.
An article which really highlighted this for me (and this wasn't even the point of the article) was in last month's issue of Mother Jones (yes, I read Mother Jones - and occasionally Utne Reader though I find its smug trendiness rather nauseating at times). This article was about economic growth and the environment and can the planet sustain what people seem to desire (I found it online here).... It was vaguely interesting but what caught my eye were several quotes from architects and builders about the new "mega-houses" that are the vogue amongst Those Who Can Afford Them. Apparently, there are a lot of Americans out there willing to shell out vast sums of money for houses designed to "suit the dysfunctional family." This is how one builder characterized these houses. And from the way he was quoted - and the non critical way in which what he said was blended into the rest of the article - it seems that this was neither a joke nor an exclamation of horror but rather a simple description of what is.
So it's up to folks like me and you to throw up our hands and exclaim in horror!
Wow. A house that is designed so that the people who live in it - parents and children - not a house designed for groups of college students - don't have to interact with one another. The little girl's room has a private karaoke studio, the boys' room has a 28" plasma screen TV in a special secret mini room next to the bedroom. There are two home offices at either end of the house (so even when one works at home one doesn't have to be at home). There is no family room.
So I digested that article for a while, thinking about what it symbolizes in our disjointed, disconnected fear-ridden society... And then while waiting in the optician's office for my son to finish being seen the other day, I picked up a women's magazine and read about the increasing incidence of autism spectrum disorders in children. Is it something like 1 in 10 American children are diagnosed with some sort of condition which fits along this continuum? Sure, there will be diagnosis which some children will grow out of (which points to an increase in adults who know so little about what is normal in children that they see problems everywhere) and many other kinds of misdiagnosis. And there is a well known phenomena amongst doctors of "seeing something" everywhere once it has become well known or carries a lot of interest.
But still.... that's a lot of children.
So here we have, on the one hand, the American Dream becoming synonymous with isolation - and the American Nightmare becoming synonymous with.... the same.
And yet with e-mail and text messages and all the various do-dads they have on phones, people are more connected than ever before. Yet... are they connected at a soul level? Can the quality of the conversation loudly broadcast in the restaurant or the train possibly be as deep and thoughtful as conversations which happen when people actually have to make time to seek out each other? If I can live my illusion of family life in a house where I can avoid the other people who live there, then am I having to confront what lives in me that separates me from others? Might I not seek the facile quickie-connection via the cell phone rather than have to face my own pain?
These are my unformed thoughts that I share with you. I see a vast number of children who find human contact so difficult and who have so many challenges when it comes to "I/Thou" issues. And I see a trend in families each retreating to their separate places in the "home." And I see education, entertainment and so-called socializing being dominated by machine-mediated chatter instead of soul to soul expression. Put it all together and it is a rather sobering and frightening scene.