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Tonight in a conversation with some friends it was mentioned that the 60s were a turning point in American life and history. Everyone agreed and we moved on to other subjects, but that idea stuck in my head in the, “I’m-not-so-sure-about-that bag”, and later I compared that concept to the other items in that category. Sure the 60s were pivotal — we had the Beatles, and Bob Dylan (who received a Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama today) and the Viet Nam war, and social revolutions associated with sex, and drugs. But how about the 50s? They had their singers like Elvis Presley who shook things up, and the Korean War was just as deadly for Americans as was that later and presently more famous one. As for social revolutions, the 50s endured the McCarthy Era and what was thought of as the Communist Menace. Let’s not discount the 40s either because they had Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, who may seem tame now, but what they did was considered radical at the time and for the violence aspect of things there was that little event, not quite forgotten, called World War Two and the use of the atomic bomb. Along with a popular tune of the time, “Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative,” there were millions of humans killed in senseless slaughter. Earlier, the 30s had the Great Depression which was very depressing to everyone, especially after the supposed exuberance of the 20s. It seems all of those decades were pivotal; it’s just that each was rotating around a different axis.

What axis were we swarming around going forward from the 60s into the 70s? TV grew in picture size and the home-invasion of media was nearly ubiquitous. The world environment became a grand issue, and rightfully so, but there were not many actual improvements wrought except for the awareness of freon. What strikes me was that the world population continued to grow by vast numbers of people and that sheer human abundance is what was wreaking the ecological havoc and not so much individual behaviors. Population control was thought about but everyone agreed it was a personal decision and so population issues were intentionally forgotten, and left for the future to sort out. About 1983 the personal computer started making its appearance and the now forgotten Commodore 64 made a huge impact for several years because it was so affordable that millions were sold. Why the company totally lost out to Apple and IBM seems like a potentially great book waiting to be written. It seems to me the music since the 60s has improved greatly in technical virtuosity, but somehow music didn’t have the positive social impact of earlier decades. Instead the music focused increasingly on the negative and raunchy side of life and tended to pull the naturally positive aspirations of people toward short term sensual pleasures and consumption of excess. Because of that quality people drift away from the musical messages of the more recent decades. People don’t really want to be hostile to one another because it alienates potential friends. Constant hostility is a bad habit.

As the millennium decade 00s developed, we became increasingly swamped by information. It was better quality, and broader based than ever before and everyone became increasingly swamped by trying to keep up with everything. We moved into having more access to anything and everything but valuing what we had less and less to the point of valuing nothing whatsoever. Valuing individual physical-people whom we knew for years and even a lifetime back in the 30s became replaced with an abundance of online friends whom we never meet face to face in the 00s. What happened is that if one’s online friend doesn’t satisfy some particular need you can click to another in a few seconds who might give you what you want. The problem soon develops that online life becomes transient and the hundred online friends can all feel individually abandoned.

In the olden days of being in the physical presence of one’s interlocutor it was necessary to maintain more personal politeness; online it becomes easy to flame people. The problem with that is that the pleasure of labeling someone, formerly a friend, with some nasty words is so meaningless to all parties that everyone forgets it in a few seconds. Then the various individuals concerned return to the pursuit of a new transient and largely futile pleasure.

The answer to that alienation problem is obvious and always has been. It lies in finding ways to improve other people’s lives and helping them feel better, and that reflexively helps the provider of the help to improve their own life and feel better about their own self. Being not just nice to other people, but helpful to them makes both of your lives better. Being nice usually means just not insulting them, but being helpful means providing an answer to some problem they have. It has always been that way. We still live in wonderful times because there are still ways we can help other people.