Focal Points of the Modern American Lifestyle

Fireplace

Photo Credit: Riccardo Cuppini

If we look into the living rooms of most Americans the centerpiece is usually a television. All furniture in the room points to it and all attention is directed towards it. Often, this is where meals take place in the form of handheld fast food or microwaveable dinners. This did not always used to be the case.

Before the widespread use of central heating, a fireplace used to be the focal point of the living space. It was similar to the television only in the fact that it was the center of the room and different in the fact that it did not command all of the attention. Instead, it was a gathering place – a space to commune with family at the end of a day and interact with each other, talk, laugh, and share stories. Where a television isolates individuals in their viewership, a fireplace would bring them together.

Another focal point of the house used to be the kitchen. It was where most meals were handmade with real food ingredients and had more than just a microwave or toaster oven to heat up quick meals. Actual cooking took place. Now, many large kitchens sit unused and food choices are made on the way home from work in the form of a convenient drive-thru.

The main focus of many adult Americans now is their work. There is the pervasive idea that we need to work more to earn more to buy more stuff, or to pay off the stuff we already have. Employees in the United States are working increasingly longer hours, the average now being over the 40-hour workweek standard.

Many of these things are not bad as isolated instances. It is not terrible if you have a favorite TV show that you like to watch, or if you indulge in a convenient meal now and then, or if you put in a few more hours at work this week.The problem arises when changing focal points in American lives work together to drive us to live unhealthy lives.

When the big game or a new show is about to start, it’s easier to order a pizza than to cook a meal. When you’re exhausted at the end of a 10+ hour work day, it’s nice to just pick up something ready-made on the way home. When our time is constantly taken up by working, watching TV, checking Facebook or using any other isolating electronic device we lose out on building and maintaining our relationships with our families and communities. To continue on this path is dangerously unhealthy and will lead to increasingly unfulfilling lives.

What do you think is the most unhealthy habit that Americans have? Do you think that everything mentioned in this post can be fixed with the well known saying: “everything in moderation”, or do you think that actually makes it worse? I’d love to hear your comments and opinions!

This post was inspired by a chapter from the book Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life by Albert Borgmann called “Focal Things and Practices”.

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2 thoughts on “Focal Points of the Modern American Lifestyle

  1. I totally agree, Emily. I think modern technology is to blame. There is never a time, in the past 5 years, that you could see a family of 4 eating dinner at a restaurant without having their cellphones out to keep them occupied. So many families are disconnected from each other nowadays that family time and relationships have gone down the drain. Its funny how people stay connected with modern technology but also secluded as well especially from healthy relationships. Face-to-face and human interaction is what we need to maintain a healthy lifestyle; physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

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    • Hello Kari and thanks for your response. I agree that many aspects of our lives are being affected as you mentioned, but I think it has more to do with the main foci or “focal points” that we place so much importance on as Americans (long work hours, isolating technologies, and convenient types of food – to name a few) working in conjunction with one another rather than just one being the culprit. Any one of these things in itself is not bad as a once in a while occurrence, but when they reinforce each other that’s when it really becomes problematic and leads to an unhealthy lifestyle. I don’t propose that we go back to a pre-technological society (I don’t believe that would even be possible), but I think we would be better off if we were aware of how technology–and all of the other things in life that we consider important–play a role in shaping our lives and values.

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