RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Take the Day Off

It’s a bit of a shock to realize that, for the average college student of 19 years old, war with Iraq is a normal part of the landscape. Or the techno-scape, if you will. It was August 1990 when Iraq attacked Kuwait, and then … well, you can Google the details. I doubt if a day has passed without Iraq in the news, right there with the races for football trophies and the Oscars.

Anyway, we’re still fighting in the Middle East, but it’s sort of like background noise on the radio now, and if you’re irritated by that, just plug in the iPod ear buds and go on with your day.

In the techno-centric world of college kids, all information is neutral. Watching the US at war in a sandy place is as normal as watching Scrubs, or Project Runway, or the football game.

It’s all equally important, since it’s all coming in on the same set. Like e-mails that you click through and maybe open. You know all the senders are equally sincere in their desire for you to read their stuff, but what are you going to let through?

A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal grabbed my attention with the headline, “The end of e-mail.”

“Thank goodness,” I thought, “now we can finally get things done.” Because the trouble with e-mail is that it takes so long. Like let’s say you’re trying to set up a meeting on a burning issue with a half dozen folks scattered around town. You send out an e-mail. Two of them get back to you immediately with alternative dates for the meeting. You send out another, narrowing it down, the same two put it on their calendar but now two more chime in that those dates will never work. So you ask for their dates and send them around. And so forth. By the time you get the meeting, you’ve forgotten the issue.

Much better to do business on the phone, or just to walk to your friend’s place and set something up.

But the Wall Street Journal wasn’t saying that techno-communications was over. Instead, argues the writer, Jessica Vascellero, “we are always connected, whether we are sitting at a desk or on a mobile phone.”

Ewww …

It’s true that satellite signals are wrapping the planet and every logger in every remote forest or fisher on the high seas hears about Jon and Kate’s breakup before their parents do, but, as the article says, thanks to Facebook and Twitter “You don’t need to ask a friend whether she has left work” because, of course, she updates her site to tell everyone where she is.

Here’s the deal, though. Some information is more important than other information. And we need to discriminate between the important stuff, like if our tax dollars are going into wars that kill people and may actually come back to hurt us, our very own citizens right here, our neighbors, and the trivial stuff, like that Jon and Kate thing. And we’re losing our ability to tell what we need to think about.

And then there’s the question about how many hours there are in a day. According to Nielsen, there are 301.5 million people using social networking sites and 276.9 million using e-mail. That’s a lot of hours, a lot of electricity, a lot of human potential. And a lot of possibility for corporate interests to promote their businesses and capture your economic future.

On the other hand, there’s a growing movement to reject this model, and if self-sufficiency has a general holiday it’s the one coming up: Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving might be the one holiday of the year devoted to sharing and gratitude. All over the United States, people will be cooking for themselves and treating each other like the amazing non-machines we are. I’d almost bet, with the “locavore” movement in full swing, there will be a million people eating locally-raised turkeys and home-grown yams. And, for them, it will be the best Thanksgiving ever.

And, in the ultimate rejection of the American spend-a-thon model, we can extend the holiday and celebrate Buy-Nothing Day, the Friday after Thanksgiving.

From its beginning as a national holiday, Thanksgiving Friday has been the first day of a 3- or 4-week spending binge leading up to Christmas. But, as the founders of Buy-Nothingness say, “Take the personal challenge by locking up your debit card, your credit cards, your money clip, and see what it feels like to opt out of consumer culture completely, even if only for 24 hours. Like the millions of people who have done this fast before you, you may be rewarded with a life-changing epiphany.”

On Buy-Nothing Day, anti-consumers have had lots of fun holding charge card cut-ups at malls, creating empty shopping cart conga lines, and generally making light of our so-called consumer culture. At our house, we bring a gang of musicians together and spend the day eating leftovers and sharing tunes. Acoustic tunes, that is. Played on musical instruments made of wood.

So, eat and talk and enjoy your neighbors this holiday.

That’s the ultimate social network.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2009

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