Entropy: a measure of the amount of disorder within a system; lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.” Such is an amalgam of some definitions found on the ‘net. More on that later.
Well … I recently caught myself doing … “it”: reminiscing in the past … the “When I was growing up…” syndrome. All that was missing was a few “whipper-snappers” thrown in. It doesn’t matter what it was—whether the three-channel black-and-white TV (weren’t we thrilled at receiving that round UHF antenna and a fourth channel!), the telephone party lines, the vast array of ice cream flavors—vanilla, chocolate and strawberry (the daring venturing into the three-layered Neapolitan). And, later, when talking with someone in the military, there were the misty memories of (largely imagined) glory days as my victim listened politely … glazed-eyed, expressionless … feverishly drafting plans of courteous escape: “Wow, sir! Love to hear more, but gotta’ go..!”
We who are over 50 years of age recount a dizzying array of changes—in society, and especially in technology. One parishioner often recalls a dishwasher-sized, multi-plattered memory module purchased by LANL that held … a whopping 25 megabytes! These days I can’t but marvel at the speed of development simply when perusing the tech section of Walmart (4 terabytes for $100?! Wow.)
But … we have also lost a lot of good things, or they have, at least, been drastically diminished. Perhaps the most evident is true social interaction—the often and widely-lamented (already a cliché) being the family at dinner … all on cellphones or tablets, texting one another over the expanse of the dining table. Young people on dates looking at their phones constantly (how flattering for their companion!) With 24/7 news, social networking sites, omni-location media streaming, etc., always something new to bombard us, and heaven forbid that we not know the latest news or fad! This is a reason, I think, that public discourse is becoming so uncivil: we don’t HAVE to listen to other viewpoints and consider others’ opinions. With social media we readily retreat to a comfortable “safe space” of the like-minded, excoriating and excommunicating those who dare diverge from the common correct thinking. (“Thou, heretic, art hereby, and forevermore … Unfriended! Unfollowed!!”)
And so … diminishingly little time is spent in cultivating deep relationships … almost, I often think, in an ominous countdown to the end of any lasting societal interaction. The novelty of each webpage, tweet or text is more interesting than that person next to us, whether that person be friend or co-worker, mom or dad, child or spouse. Notice how we already have “friends” with alluring names like “Siri” and “Alexa”, the Garmin voices, etc., as we try to humanize our gadgets. And—more frighteningly—stories haunt the news of a spectre of android “companions”, even into that most intimate of realms—the bedroom. Even Asimov might have been stunned at such a prospect.
But then, the inevitable power outage … and if you want to witness modern desperation, go to an office or school that has lost electricity, forcing people to actually … interact (oh, no, not that! Ewwww!!). Yes … those pesky associates, with all their accompanying warts and blemishes, differing opinions … things that get on our nerves … our recourse to a display into which to retreat from reality gone. This is why people often flee during power outages to “run errands”—anything to get away from that messiness and unpredictability of unavoidable personal interaction.
And yet…we NEED personal interaction. Many thousands of years in caves, around campfires, on community hunts, etc., have developed such need within us. Our reaching out to social media is really a cry for that community, albeit “filtered” toward the like-minded. Youth ministers often point to the lack of true physical and familial interaction as a reason why so many young people are so lonely and despair, noting that stacking social events cannot possibly replace the tenderness and closeness of (unplugged) family interaction. I also wonder about the “benefit” of our young people’s lives being so “organized”, because so much of learning productive social interaction used to be by youth organizing their own improvised games and activities—debating rules and infractions, utilizing imagination, learning to compromise, the need for good sportsmanship, etc.
So I hope we can retrieve some of this closeness to one another in the coming year … and henceforth: true and intimate familial and community interaction. But, like all good things, it takes effort and discipline, recognizing that the greater good may lay not in the wide and easy path taken by many, but along the narrow and rocky path taken by few.
Finally … back to entropy: that “gradual decline into disorder”. One can think of entropy also in terms of dispersion, like the heat of a pot of boiling water poured into a lake dispersing throughout, until any measureable difference is lost into the uniform tepidity of the whole. Perhaps we can stem this apparent and pervasive societal entropy by strengthening those family and friendship bonds so important to human well-being, and which are the very building blocks with which a strong society is built, for Psalm 133 becomes ever-more applicable in our day … simply due to its increasing scarcity: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)
“My soul takes pleasure in three things, and they are beautiful in the sight of the Lord and of men; agreement between brothers, friendship between neighbors, and a wife and a husband who live in harmony.” (Sirach 25:1)