For some reason, I was thinking about this topic early this morning before deciding to get up. I get up pretty early during the week so it's hard not to get up early on the weekend no matter how late I stay up. The US may still lead the world in cultural and entertainment exports, but is falling behind in technology and innovation. Capitalism is well and good, and I still feel it's the only system that "works," but the US has turned into a nation of consumers. We are more obsessed with buying stuff than learning and are content with our currently attainable standard of living. The movie Idiocracy is going to be more prophetic than farcical in the medium-term future. We will soon enter a post-literate society as schools pump out kids who can text like crazy, but can't add two numbers in their heads because they can either do that on their computers or find a nerd.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what precipitated this decline, but I think it would be when the US transitioned from trying to create a better life to trying to acquire more "stuff." "Stuff" will definitely be the end of us. It may be trite, but necessity is definitely the mother of invention. Sure, some people are poor, but most of them are poor in a relative sense. They still own cars, TVs and have $50/month cell phone plans. There no longer seems to be a great pressure towards improving the standard of living. Once that pressure is gone, you tend to relax and try to enjoy a leisurely life. I don't think we're biologically wired to be leisurely. We evolved (or were created if you believe in that) to scavenge for food and to avoid our predators. We developed big brains to distinguish good food from bad and safe animals from the dangerous. Now that we've conquered our planet, we no longer need to struggle. Once the struggle is gone, the focus is lost. I think that's a better way to put it: the US is no longer focused on anything other than making money expressly to buy crap that we don't really need. Few people seem interested in learning. There is much to do in this life and I think we waste it sitting in front of the TV (sports excluded).
You need to look no further than MTV/VH1. I don't think I've seen a music video on either channel in years. They're now populated with bullshit reality shows with C list celebrities or people who are famous simply for being famous. If you watch a show on either channel, you'll see the future of this country/world and you'll weep. Semi-literate knuckleheads vie for the attention of a bland and generic looking chick whose only endearing quality is that she might put out. 20-something washouts compete in contrived competition in order to push sugary industrial chemicals and more crap that reduces our quality of life.
Another indication of the upcoming collapse is Twitter. I know a lot of people use it and I'm sure it is useful in certain situations, but reducing our social interactions to one-line sound bites is not good for us. There used to be real discourse in this country, but that was slowly replaced by sound-bites and sensationalism. Journalism ceased to be about reporting the news and devolved into generating the news in order to make money. Why is it so damn important to make money that we have to sacrifice our principles? What are we going to do with it? As I've written before, stuff rarely makes us happy. Sure, watching the Super Bowl on my 50" HDTV is pretty damn cool, but it's not going to improve my life overall. Once sound-bites and sensationalism took over, discourse disappeared and context was lost. People are a product of their enviroment, which is why you never use baby-talk around babies, so if you're exposed to one-line zingers, you'll lose the skill of critical thinking.
I don't know if people read less these days, but it seems like it. We have become reactors instead of actors and it's sad. I don't know if technology development has slowed down, but I think so given that I was laid off earlier this year along with many others. If you walk down the halls of engineering departments in the US, you see less and less home-grown Americans. I don't know if it's because engineering and science isn't cool or because they don't think it makes you that much money. "Oh man, I can't go to school for six more years to get my PhD."
The worst part of it for me is that I'm no longer angry about this decline. I've reached the acceptance portion and that saddens me. I wish more people would get upset and the direction this country is headed. Obama might make a difference, but it may be too little too late. We need to deemphasize money, but that won't happen in a depression. Of course, that depression happened because people got greedy. Lawmakers removed regulation in the interest of "free spirit" which really means they were wined and dined. People thought they could get rich quickly by flipping houses. When has a shortcut every worked? How many people have gotten rich without putting in hard work? Ok, ignore dumbasses like Donald Trump who inherited money. Most people that we revere in industry got there by hard work. Sure, luck played a big part, but hard work is necessary.
What can we do? I would firstly suggest that we boycott MTV/VH1 and any other network that shows trash. Stop consuming for the sake of consuming. Ask yourself if what you're going to buy is really going to improve your life. If not, then you don't need it. Wait until a holiday to get it. If you still want it then, great. I guess I'm suggesting not to make life too easy. Don't give in to every whim and add in some struggle. Pick an area where your background is weak and try to improve it. Pick up a sport or activity that you have always wanted to try. Mainly, turn off the damn TV. It should be a reward for accomplishing something during the day or a way to unwind at the end of a hard day. It shouldn't be a big part of your life. If you watch less TV, you'll be exposed to less advertisements which should lead to less consumption. We can all do more with less.