News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 11, 2013

LIZ CIANCONE: Withdrawn society not very social any more

Liz Ciancone
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — My Best Friend and I went out for lunch the other day. It was a sit-down place with our own “server” (in my day I was called “a waitress”) and everything offering personal attention. The manager even came over to ask if everything was all right.

An older woman came in with a young boy and they were seated near us. I assumed it was a grandmother and her grandson. She tried to initiate a conversation, but he sat focused on his two thumbs which were dancing over the keys of some sort of electronic gadget.

Then, that very evening, there was a blurb on television about a new online university where in the comfort of your own home you could earn college credits and, eventually perhaps, some sort of degree.

I was struck anew by how we are becoming a socially alienated society. It is almost to the point that our "friends" are on Facebook rather than right next door. Nor are they sitting next to us in a classroom. When they graduate and go to work in an office, they are isolated in cubicles.

Our home in Yorkville had a southern overlook of the Fox River. During the summer, neighbors would come over — sometimes with a pitcher of lemonade and Mom always had cookies — and the adults would sit and talk, wafted by a relatively cool southern breeze. We kids listened — and learned. During the winter, the adults would get together over a card table or maybe hover around the radio to listen to Jack Benny or Fred Allen and talk. It wasn’t exactly gossip, but they did keep up with local “goings on” or deeper talk about politics or city government.

I realize that today I would be unwilling to give up the comfort of air conditioning on those torrid summer evenings, not even in exchange for a cooling breeze off the Wabash. Come winter, I am as guilty as the average American of hunkering down with a knee blanket and television. So who am I to talk?

But, I do worry about losing the socialization of schools. Kids and young adults learn how to play well with others by working out differences during a game of “work-up” baseball. They also form friendships which simply are not possible if your classroom is your own living room. And don’t get me started on “play dates.”

I wonder if the failure of our national senators and representatives to play well together, and compromise differences, goes back to a technological overload. They have chosen sides. It’s time to work out a compromise and set rules for the game we are all expected to follow.

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send email to