(Podcast teaser only. Please go to the podcast for more.)
How many remember that phrase? I meant a cup–a mug, actually, of coffee and a plain donut that was dipped in the coffee before each bite. That was my practice back in the day. And that practice seemed downright elegant compared to some of my coffee experience in the field in the Army. I can clearly remember being in the field using Signal Corp wire and a no. 10 (large) can to use grounds for the third time to make truly horrendous coffee over an open fire. And I remember the event with a certain fondness. The coffee, if you can call it that, was frightful, but the experience with the guys with clearly memorable. This memory had nothing to do with the quality of the coffee, but the quality of the experience. “Liberating” the wire from supply, rigging the can to hold it over the improvised outdoor fire. Loud discussions of how long to boil these already over used grounds, using a metal canteen cup holder for the scalding coffee, and, finally, coming up with ever more interesting ways to describe the horrid, acidic taste. The first few who announced their descriptions did not stand a chance; each successive description was more colorful, and had less to do with the muddy liquid than the unlovely setting for all of this, the hour, the overall quality of food and coffee in the Army, and the Army itself.
But we connected. In fact, some of those men are still in my life–and I in theirs.
Today when I want coffee, I sometimes find myself ordering a “Tall Flat White.” And I don’t really know all what’s in it. But it tastes good, I can put it in my travel mug where it will stay hot longer, and I don’t feel like I am embarrassing myself in that upscale environment by ordering a Cuppa Joe and a Sinker. They might know what a Cuppa Joe is there, but they haven’t sinker in the house. Perhaps I should try a “Grande Joseph, and Floating Croissant.” But it just doesn’t have the same ring. And the Tall Flat White and a croissant is about three times as much.
But I am getting the upscale experience, right? But what is that? Well, it is truly different from drinking terrible coffee sitting on the ground in an open field in the Army. And it is different from having a Cuppa Joe and A Sinker at a coffee and donut joint. The upscale environment has better seating, better Wi-Fi and a much wider variety of foodstuffs. And it all comes at a price. Not only are we paying more in terms of how many hours of our work time each week we need to invest in our monthly coffee and a snack habit, but in terms of human interaction. When I go into those upscale coffee environments, almost everyone is on the Internet or asking for the password. Put simply, we are trading human connections for Internet connections. And we actually think we have made progress.
Most of us have seen pictures of the rare small restaurants that have signs reading, “No Internet. Talk to each other.” You mean to a live person in front of me? You mean like to others in my group? Or a stranger? What if I don’t like that person? How can I be cool with someone who may not like me? How can I say something witty or snarky and then be on my way? Where is the Unfriend button? How do I block them? How can I make my winning political point anonymously?
Social media is a type of safe space. It is a world where we can be in contact with hundreds or thousands of people in a necessarily “low touch” way. Lots of contacts, but only in a glancing blow kind of interaction. How do we learn/relearn to successfully handle the physical world, with far fewer contacts but in a “high touch” context. Real people, right there in front of me. With their need to be heard, to be understood, to be appreciated. As people, not just as contacts. They want to be seen and heard as people, just as you and I do. And we can’t do that if we are on the Internet and not looking around. Looking for eye contact, looking for human contact.
There is a lot of criticism about how we elect public officials. Correctly, the observation is that in electing everyone from local officials to the President, our elections are popularity contests, and not forums where the better ideas and policies triumph. Politics is being correctly criticised as a game where slogans, cliches and photo ops are mass marketed to sway voters. Do we want to change that? If we do, then we need, personally, to change how we interact with the world from the high number of contacts with a low touch, to a lower number of contacts with a high touch. And do a deep dive into reading and understanding everything from the Constitution to the Federalist Papers. Many of the voters who elected Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and others read these documents. The Federalist Papers started out being printed in newspapers. Read by farmers and tradesmen. They informed themselves on the issues. And that forced the candidates to deal intelligently with informed, demanding voters.
If we want better candidates, and we desperately need them, we need to be better voters. Politicians are simply mimicking how many of us live. They see us living in our high volume world of low touch contacts, and the politicians know they can win our votes in exactly the same way; mass marketing with slogans and cliches–along with a photo or two. They see that we have not done much about doing independent reading and study on the issues of our time, so they are confident they can sway us with cliches, half-truths and snarky comments about their opponents. Be better voters, the parties will be forced to give us better candidates.
By the way, no part of this podcast is a get-out-the-vote campaign. Please don’t vote unless you can cast an informed ballot. For more, please go to Don’t Vote.
Keep drinking the coffee concoction of your choice, but make human contact as well. I have an occasional Tall Flat White, but most of the time now it is a Cuppa Joe and a Sinker. And a conversation or two in a place with no Internet. When you can, ease up on a discretionary costs e.g., coffee or snacks, here and there, and invest a little time and money in an ebook, paperback or audio book. Pick a few founding documents, and some well-written pieces–from both sides–on current issues. When we raise the level of our knowledge and thinking, the politicians will be forced to keep up.
Now, as always, please do contact me about anything. Respond in my Results With Reason blog, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And I’m easy to find on iTunes, Google Play and the usual Bat Channels, including Twitter and Facebook.
It is time for our usual parting thought. For us at Results With Reason, it is not only change your thinking, change your life. It is change your thinking, change your actions, change the world. And if you can do it in love and enjoy the people around you at the same time, all the better. Remember: Knowledge by itself is the booby prize.
Will Luden, writing to you from the road in Chico, California.