Mike Bawden thinks we need to come out of our cocoons and regain our sense of what it will take to live life to our full potential. Here’s a hint – there is a desperate need for great stories, ambitious storytellers, and an optimistic sense of our own future.
Dream like your future depends on it. Because it does.
by Mike Bawden
We often long for the optimistic future that seemed to dominate our thoughts and actions in the 1960s. The space race. The first men on the moon. Color television. The world of tomorrow. Even Star Trek.
There was a sense that no matter the obstacle, we could overcome it.
Maybe that was an outgrowth of our country’s recovery from the world war that had ended barely a generation earlier. As horrific as World War II had been, it was easier to retreat to the memory of it rather than face the harsher realities emerging from Southeast Asia, Soviet Russia and other parts of the globe that didn’t escape the physical and emotional damage four to eight years of military conflict brought with it.
By the end of the 1960s and into the 70s, a new, youthful generation had grown to replace and eventually overwhelm the greatest one, flipping “the bird” at it and its authority and living life a bit more recklessly. People believed they could do no wrong if conflict stayed off our own shores and we bathed ourselves in a warm glow of the television taking us away to happier days and places where mysteries could be solved in an hour.
Finding security within the four walls of our own homes
Our media landscape had managed to form a fragile shell around our society, isolating most Americans from the harsh realities found in other parts of the world.
Interestingly enough, the entertainment messages produced here became a popular export – reassuring some populations and inflaming others. The people of the world saw America through its television programs and movies and magazines. And whether they understood the context of what they were seeing, hearing and reading or not, that media helped define how they would interact with our country in the future.
Our media shell was hardening into a cocoon. And it was getting more and more difficult to successfully transmit messages in or out.
By the time the 80s had rolled around, the kids of the previous decades had turned into parents and come to realize the boundless energy of youth gave way to the demands of employment, raising families and making ends meet at a time of economic recession.
The first casualties of this new reality were, in many cases, entertainment venues that had been the “watering holes” and communal gathering spots in prior years. Americans were staying home more which created markets for greater media diversification.
America’s great cocooning was underway.
The optimistic future we had shared with the world in the 60s had given away to a more personal, intimate and, at times, selfish future that put individual needs first and foremost as we all survived the individual trials that came about with economic stress, the evaporation of lifetime employment, high interest rates, no savings and lots of media telling us what we needed to really be happy was to have more stuff.
Optimism started to melt away into a more dystopian vision of our own future.
You can see it in our entertainment. The stories we told. The conspiracies we sought out in the 80s and 90s became more and more bleak. And the scarier we made the world around us seem, the more we wanted to stay at home where it was safe.
At the same time, the rest of the world was following our lead – whether they knew it or not. Politicians learned from the American model of mobilizing the extreme elements of a political party to exert and maintain control. Eventually, news media networks would grow up to support these partisan efforts, finding financial rewards in sewing fear and doubt.
The change was incremental.
Small steps. Unintended consequences. No master plan, except in theory.
But the optimistic vision of a future that was once pervasive in an American “can do” spirit that once was audaciously expressed as the ambition to go to the moon – not because it was easy but because it was hard – was nowhere to be found. The willingness was becoming more and more rare to the point where it was nonexistent in political leadership.
Americans took refuge (as did much of the world) in cocoons of their own making. Listening, watching, seeing and believing the things that make them feel good, comfortable and reassured. Sometimes those things are accurate and true. Sometimes they are not.
But we’ve developed a culture that’s not comfortable with discomfort. There isn’t a barf bag in our cocoon. We don’t want to run the risk of upset any more. We don’t want to be distracted with the facts if they don’t support what we already know to be true.
As bad as it might be in our cocoon, we’re all convinced it’s got to be worse on the outside. We’ve all seen THE MATRIX. We know that’s how it is.
Where have all the people gone?
Cocooning is a real thing. It’s a real, cultural trend. And even though it’s a reality, it doesn’t have to be our defining reality.
There’s a lot to be said for the benefits we can realize as technology develops and progress marches forward. But exactly how we leverage those advancements is up to how we envision our future society and selves.
And that’s why the stories we tell – and the people who tell them – are so important. If we can’t imagine what our future should be like, then somebody else is going to do it for you. And if you let the people imagining your future rely only on their experiences, you’ve done more than give up your freedom.
You’ve given up on your own future.
The status quo wants your future to be just like your present. That’s how the money is made. Not by breaking out with a completely new idea (that’s too risky), but by continuing to meet the ever-lowering expectations of a market who has become more and more satisfied with warmed-over stories that feel familiar and don’t challenge.
“Cocooning … (is expressed through) the desire for safety, comfort and privacy as the outside world proves wearing-and-tearing and un-navigable.”
Is the world fraught with danger and un-navigable? Yes. Should we continue to hide from it or boldly go to reclaim our future together?
Break out of your cocoon and join us, won’t you? Let’s have some fun together.
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