We can get overly dramatic about the progress of modern life. But it is good to remember that no matter what is invented, we do the most human activities about the same as always. Modern times have not modernized laughter or crying. It takes about as long as always to have an intimate conversation. A good night’s sleep is still a good night’s sleep, just as in days gone by.
And here’s the thing, we cannot really simplify these activities. Who wants a minimalist’s approach to laughter, or even grief? What would cause me to want to simplify an intimate talk with a fast friend? A good night’s sleep is a good night’s sleep. Less of it isn’t going to be an improvement.
Somehow though, we crave simplicity in our modern times. Simplicity is a common longing of the modern person. We should ask ourselves why?
Not because joy, grief, intimacy, or anything else human has gotten more complex. Instead we have tried to better these by adding onto them inhuman improvements. Just the other day I heard that funeral homes are accommodating the lifestyles of baby boomers with boomer-style funerals. One funeral home bought a Harley rigged to pull a custom hearse trailer to reflect the boomer love of cruising noisy bikes on the weekend. A friend quoted in the story said that his buddy would appreciate the last Harley ride. But note this, layering boomer-culture on top of grief does not improve the grieving process. If anything, it trivializes it, or distracts all together. And when sometime later this deceased guy’s buddy feels like life is too complex and has made him get out of touch with his emotions but cannot put his finger on why, it is not because grief is harder for modern people than for pre-modern people. It’s because a Harley really is not that comforting where death is concerned. It does not lessen the blow. It gets in the way of the blow, which in the ironic alchemy of human emotion makes the blow all the more severe.
What we long for is not an easier form of human activity. What we long for is human activity without all the modern stuff that buries and hides our humanity. So when we say we long for a simple conversation with a friend, we do not mean a short or shallow or dispassionate conversation. What we mean is that we want to talk to a friend who is not also holding and checking messages on an iPhone.
We need to know that when we crave simplicity, we are not after an easier life. We are after life.