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Monday, July 14, 2014

THE DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY


        
Many things have changed over the past sixty-five years. In 1955, Jackie Gleason threatened to send Alice, “To the moon”, and in 1969 Neil Armstrong was the first human to step foot on the moon.  NASA’s sophisticated computer system used for that landing had little more capability than a hand held calculator has today.  In 1977, the first home computers entered the market, which were large, bulky novelties that no one thought would ever catch on.  Now, nearly every home in the U.S. either has a home computer or “smart” phone capable of retrieving instant information on any subject, or communicating with someone on the other side of the world through a series of satellites and broadcast towers. 
         Some experts have tried to blame the decline of the American family on electronics.  Others have tried to lay the blame on the economy forcing both partners to work in order to make ends meet.  While both of these factors have played a role in societal decline by separating and individualizing the time spent together as a family unit, there is another factor that is overlooked as a potential cause for isolation among family members.  The unseen antagonist in this drama is the American automobile.
         During the Baby Boom in the 1950’s and 1960’s, a young man would make a date with his potential girlfriend and pick her up in his car.  He would open the door for her and she would sit on the passenger side of the vehicle.  As the relationship progressed, she might slide closer to him on the bench seat and, before long, they would look like a two-headed driver.  He had his arm around her as they drove down life’s highway.  If, or when, they got married and added a child, the mother would hold the child in her arms as they progressed on their journey.  This process would be repeated as many times as reproduction occurred, with each new child being held by the mother with each of the older siblings being rotated to the passenger seat, then to the back seat as the child became less dependent on the mother’s care.  The thought of safety was rarely brought into play because the parents knew that the vehicle was made of heavy gauge steel and virtually indestructible.
         As the family rolled into the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, changes began to take place in society.   The Civil Rights movement was in full swing and the Women’s Lib movement was growing in popularity.  Viet Nam was winding down and Gay Pride was on the march.  The economy was beginning to slow down and the need to make cars safer and more fuel-efficient was beginning to become popular as the price of oil was slowly on the rise.  Smaller cars, made of lighter metals, hit the market and the introduction of bucket seats and seat belts brought safety to the forefront. Yes, society was changing.  With fast growing progressive views and the interstate highway system changing the landscape of America, came the need for safety to be at the forefront of American’s minds. 
         Fast forward to 2014.  The mandatory seat belt laws have been in effect since 1995.  There is mandatory use of car seats required for all children under the age of five in most states, and everyone is compartmentalized safely into their own space without physical contact with another.  Infants are even forced to stare at the seat back they are attached to, instead of given the opportunity to see the world around them.  What possible impact could that have on the American family unit?
         Between 1960 and 2010 the divorce rate and cases of juvenile delinquency in America have quadrupled.  Yes, there are other factors that could be considered such as economic and social changes, but the one thing that stands out amongst all of the changes is how America has compartmentalized each individual in the family unit.  The automobile is a prime example of how America has separated the family.  From bench seats to bucket seats to individually locked-in child seating,and seat belts to ensure the security and placement of each individual in their own space, we have created a sterile world devoid of physical contact.  It is no wonder that more children and young adults would rather play video games than talk to siblings or parents.  We have safely locked our families into a world  without freedom or human contact.
© MC Andrews, 2014.