Keller @ Large: Is Technology Pushing Away Social Venues And Interactions?

BOSTON (CBS) – According to an article yesterday in USA Today you can add the neighborhood tavern to the fast-growing list of places and ways in which we once used to connect with one another that are vanishing.

Listen to Jon’s commentary:

According to the piece, as recently as 1990, there were about 3,300 tavern licenses in Chicago; now, it’s down to 1,200.

It’s not about the booze.

There are more places than ever where you can get that, and complaints about drunkenness were among the reasons why Chicago started cracking down on taverns.

But a local history professor tells USA Today that the old-fashioned taverns, where your IOU was good and, if you’ll pardon the expression, everybody knew your name, fostered “a degree of camaraderie…and a sense of neighborliness” in a way that newer bars don’t.

“The social bonds that evolved,” he says, “were quite enduring.”

Meanwhile, I noticed with interest a recent TV ad sponsored by the US Postal Service making the case for the superiority of regular old snail mail over e-mail.

That seems like a losing battle, but if you have box in your closet with postcard from long-lost relatives or an old love letter or two, perhaps you can appreciate the difference between that and an e-mail.

I always worry when I bring this up that I’m turning into a cliché, the aging crank bemoaning the loss of the “good old days” and the takeover of “newfangled” technology and customs.

Things change, that’s the way it is, I get that.

But I honestly feel like it’s worth pausing to reflect on the social venues and interactions that are being left on the discard pile by technology on the march.

And the wonders of Facebook notwithstanding, ask yourself – is our culture becoming friendlier, more closely knit, more personal and human?

Or is change changing us into something less than the sum of our parts?

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. and 12:25 p.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.

More from Jon Keller
  • J. Meehan

    There is no question we have become a sterile society. Our autonomy allows us to say and do just about anything we want with no repercussions. Worse its only a matter of each individual thoughts with no outside or different views to possibly expand our own thinking. There is no more objective truth which democracy HAS to have to function properly.

    • Willow

      I absolutely agree.

  • DoverDavid

    I agree as well. And as we sit at our computers all alone, we have become mean in what we say to one another. Thus another way for a breeding ground of hate to begin.

  • Blight

    I have to agree. I am sometimes appaled at the shear meaness of some comments.

  • tsalnew

    I’ll try posting again – just when I thought the problem was fixed :(

    I can’t help wonder if it’s just technology. Do large chain restaurants put smaller, family owned ones out of business? Is it the quest to be so upscale that they value a zagat rating more than a social exchange with the customer. And do people have time any more to sit and relax and enjoy those around them?

    When I was growing up, my parents always seemed to have a favorite place to go (Fantasias in Fresh Pond, Cottage Crest in Waltham, the old Merry-go-Round in the Copley Plaza) where they could have a cocktail and there was a small band or piano and they’d dance. Everyone knew everyone else. These places seemed to disappear long before technology arrived along with the piano and the small bands.

    Sad no matter what the cause. However, you can still find the family owned places if you look hard enough and you can build up a rapport if you are willing to take the time to talk – and I know it doesn’t surprise anyone here that I do just that.

  • jaygee

    It must be getting “friendlier” because everywhere I go I see people talking to someone else. Remember when you could drive a car, take a walk, go shopping and even go out for dinner without talking to someone…..else? How can two or three people go out to a restaurant or bar and rather than talk to eachother, they are texting …………someone else? Or the husband who has to call home from the store to ask his mate whether he should get the 12 ounce or the 16 ounce box. Talk about the dumbing down of society. All we have to do now is eliminate the Post Office and we won’t even get a “signed” card in the mail.
    Oh yes, we are really making “progress” in the 21st century.

    • KF4766

      I agree! My husband and I recently went out to dinner and had to wait a while for a table. As we sat waiting I couldn’t help noticing that almost everyone in the waiting area was involved with their cell phones rather than interacting with the people they were with.

  • The Owl

    Cost, convenience, and cool have become the killers of the neighborhood as we transition from a face-to-face society to an electron-to-electron one.

    There was a favorite in our area, yes area since their draw was far beyond the immediate vicinity, that was an always-full gold mine for its owners. It had formica counters, stools, and comfortable booths. People were always standing in line…but never for long.

    Owners grew on in years; sold at a fair price. New owners felt they had to tart the place up and raise the prices. It is now just a place where tourists stop.

    I am also reminded of a seafood restaurant in Sakonnet, RI. Fried fish, side order of grease. Always crowded, always noisy. Great view, great food. Blue-haired old ladies with the full family and grandchildren having a great lunch or dinner.

    In comes a couple from California. with “lite cuisine” ideas. Instant emptiness. It’s now a private club.

    The “new” tavern owners seem never satisfied with the the good that they have going. They soon kill off the goose with the golden egg.

    Fortunately, there are still one or two around, with tacky enough fronts and tired-enough interiors to warn-off the fine-dining set.

    I wont say where they might be.

    • tsalnew

      Owl – exactly – every place I named met with the same fate. The entire town I grew up in – a wonderful bedroom community only miles from Boston – actually met with the same fate.

      There’s a restaurant in Cochituate Village that fits your description to a T – one of our favorites. And surprisingly the Wayside Inn in Sudbury has remained the same. We had breakfast there the other morning during the “storm”. Fire roaring in one of the smaller rooms, light snow dusting covering the grounds outside the windows and one of us made a comment that a person at another table replied to and soon patrons at all four tables in the room were chatting away as if we were long lost friends. You are so right that there are more.

      But please do share – it might help keep them in business – and if you prefer, I won’t tell anyone else ;)

      • 1stackmack

        hello tsal,updated my ps3 system so l can actually post things again,but what happend to conversation nation and declare your quickly things for the new restaurant,yes l’ll be there,not as much though,l enjoy my saturdays off,and not having to rush from burlington after work.

      • tsalnew

        Hi 1stack – glad to hear you are taking time to enjoy and this IMHO is better than CN – more respect all around!

  • BostonIrish

    Tsal, Cottage Crest on Lexington St. I went there a few times in my teens. They converted that place to a disco club in the late 70’s and went out of business completely shortly after.

    • tsalnew

      No – Cottage Crest was on Trapelo Rd just up from the hospitals. It didn’t close until after my mom died in 1991. The drummer and piano player from the small band came to my mom’s funeral.

    • Tsalnew

      I’m trying to think of place you mean BI. Was it down toward Wal Lex

  • 1stackmack

    look at all the bowling alleys that closed.with a lack of intrest in beer and coffee leagues.and no local bowling show to spark interest.on the other hand,if your into cars,cruise nights on any particular night draw gearheads together to gust hangout and talk cars,politics ,news, and what ever..

    • tsalnew

      1stack – my husband and I met at the bowling alley on Rt 2 Cambridge – may still be there but not in very good shape??? The cruise nights are great fun and it’s easy to start talking with anyone and everyone

  • web

    We all know of places that have come and gone, great memories. But the big problem is the lack of interaction. Lack of social interaction is a subtle, but serious problem. I told my daughter that when people are ‘removed’ from a situation, they lose interest and don’t care about it (i.e., the environment, animal welfare, the elderly). When all you do is text someone else while you are at dinner with your family, you miss out on an experience. No memories, no connection, no empathy for someone’s (or something’s) plight. With no connection made to a family or neighborhood, I get fearful for what might become of society.

  • exitseven

    The level of paranoia has increased in the last 20 years. People are afraid to let their kids play outside unsupervised. When was the last time you saw anyone try to hitch a ride? The idea of going into a bar to converse with strangers sounds counter to what our society has become. Everyone wants to retreat to their home theaters and computers.

    • Tsalnew

      Would you pic, up a hitchhiker??

    • web

      Fear has driven most of our actions. Ignorance of those not like you. Litigious society in which we sue when someone thinks differently than we do. We do not tolerate differences. We tolerate mega lawsuits if someone gets hurt on a swing. All under the guise of safety. All driven by fear (and greed). I walk 3 miles most days near my home, and am usually the only one out. 40 minutes and I pass no one.

      • Tsalnew

        Really. We have kids out on our street all of the time. I see people walking and running every time I’m out. And in every town i drive theough I am not so sure it’s fear – although there needs to be more caution – as much as two parent jobs thanks to the trickle up theory among other things. There is a safety concern that never existed. I would walk friends home that lived a mile away at night in the 60s. Would you let your daughter do that now?

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