Last night, at dinner here in a small village high above Dharamsala, with our new friends from Sweden and Austria, someone mentioned their grandparents just had their 60th anniversary. I said, "That's so wonderful, to enjoy such a long marriage. Unfortunately, perhaps the last generation to stay married. Since then, we've all learned to throw away our spoons, plates, and cameras, why not out marriages too." A bit cynical, unfortunately, and I'm not sure how the thought popped into my head, but I fear there is some truth to it.
100 years ago, even something as simple as a spoon was considered a permanent heirloom, to be washed, polished, reused, and ultimately handed down to a subsequent generation. Nowadays, not only do we presume plastic spoons are to be tossed, even our formalware might get a Martha Stewart inspired overhaul every few years, just to keep us current on the latest designs. With rapid advances in electronics, we know ahead of time our new iPhone 4 will be uncool, and fit for the tossing a mere couple few years after its purchase. Its a rare first generation Indian immigrants' child that can't remember vinyl runners winding down hallways, up stairs, sprawling over chairs, and wrapped around the sofa. That generation, born in an impoverished pre-partition agrarian India, cherished their goods, and made great efforts to preserve them well into the future. Not only did that generation cherish their goods, but also their social relationships.
I remember throughout my childhood, whenever my parents announced we were leaving for a vacation, to a place like California, we kids would get really excited; we presumed our time would be spent at Disneyland, or wandering the glammy streets of Beverly Hills. We'd be so annoyed to find the reality of us sitting in a dark house in a no name suburb for weeks in the relatively uncool (literally and figuratively) climes of Yuba City. Few of us in the modern generation can envision "sacrificing" our hard earned 2 weeks of vacation to visit second cousins in a non-descript locale, but this was normal for my parents, as these relationships were cherished in the old country, more generally, in pre-industrial society.
We of the modern world were raised early on to know that social connections, like spoons, were to be disposed of when the economic need had arisen. I recall being 8 years old, and extremely anxious about moving across the country, primarily because I was leaving my friend network behind. I of course thought I would return to visit, in the summers, or on holidays, but alas, that was never to be. They are friends whose names I can't recall enough to even locate them on Facebook. In the modern world, we know we have to pack up and move; we move for jobs, for college, for graduate school, for fun, for a change. Sometimes we return, but often we don't. I recall being 17 years old, 2000 miles away from home, and clinging to the phone, calling friends and family alike, in an attempt to keep these links real, alive, and relevant. Over time I learned that most folks loved the chats to keep up, some would even return calls, but a very rare few would actually initiate such communication. And then we face a great paradox of our time. Ancient eastern wisdom says, "be in the here and now, focus on the moment you are in, do not live in the past, or in the future, live now." And ultimately, when faced with this, the friends of where we are become more important than those of where we were. And indeed, like spoons, plates and cameras, even our friends, become disposable. I suppose there has been some improvement, for in recent years, we don't need to fully toss out friends, we can downgrade "real" friends to "just Facebook" friends.
I read somewhere that 100 years ago, the average person had 50 social contacts in their entire lives. This was because most existed in an agricultural economy, lived in a village, socialized primarily with fellow villagers, and only rarely ventured beyond the village. Now, its a truly uncool Facebook or Twitteroid that has a mere 50 "friends." We live in multiple cities, we vacation in multiple countries, we interact with humans we've never met, all of which means we have far more than 50 social contacts. Its significantly easier today to meet new people, and we do, so I suppose it is only inevitable that some we've met from before, disappear from our lives.
As we travel, on some level it makes me sad to know my kids have gotten used to entering a new place, playing for weeks with some local kids, and then leaving abruptly, never to see the kids again. My son, when he was 3, and we were spending time in Norway, became fond of our dear friend's nephews. He actually only spent perhaps 5 hours with them, but Nayan shrieked for over a week about wanting to see them again. I wonder if we aren't hardwired for longevity in social contacts, especially when we form an emotional bond, and if our modern world's new found fondness for "social disposability" isn't, well, unnatural.
Its become a ritual of ours, and most travelers nowadays, to exchange Facebook info, on departure. It makes saying goodbye easier, and it leaves future interaction possible. Facebook interaction is definitely lame while compared to real interaction, nonetheless, it does seem like a slight improvement over utterly disposable friends.
I'll leave you now with a slightly related, but nice little "Goodness, Gracious Me" clip.