Sunday, August 5, 2012
Hello? Where Did Everybody Go?
Truly nice weather is fleeting in this part of the world I call home. Northern Maine has long, difficult winters, and muddy, cold springs that can test the mettle of almost anyone. Autumn is nice, but short. By mid-October the trees are bare, the grass has died, the crops are in, and we are basically on standby until Old Man Winter comes roaring back into town.
The summers, however, are spectacular. From early June until mid-September, everything is warm and green and pleasant. It rarely gets too hot, and while we do get our rainy years from time to time, the sun tends to dominate. The glorious summers in Maine almost make the frozen pipes, dead car batteries, mud up to your ankles, and cabin fever during other times of year seem worth it. Almost.
So what I am wondering is, where is everybody?
It was rather warm on a recent Saturday afternoon, though not uncomfortably so, and since I had a little time on my hands, I decided to take a drive around the area where I live with the windows rolled down to enjoy an iced coffee and the satellite radio in my car.
The town in which I live is small by many people’s standards, with about 6000 residents, but it is one of the population centers for this part of Maine. It’s hardly what one might call “urban”, but it’s not just a wide spot in the road either. We have traffic lights, fast food franchises, a hospital and things like that. It’s the kind of place where you would reasonably expect to see people out doing things, especially on a gorgeous summer weekend day.
That was not the case. I drove past countless houses with unoccupied picnic tables and lawn chairs, empty trampolines and swingsets, idle bicycles and ATVs. Hardly anyone was walking on the sidewalks, and the neighborhood tennis and basketball courts may as well have had tumbleweeds blowing across them.
It was quite a contrast to what I remember as a kid here back in the 80s. I was always somewhat of a rambler, and would always explore the territory to which I was restricted by my parents to the fullest, from my neighborhood when I was quite young progressing to my block, then to my side of town, and finally to the whole town by the time I was about 12. Back then, people were everywhere outside on a summer Saturday. Getting up enough participants for a rousing round of British Bulldog or an impromptu Whiffleball game took very little effort. Those tennis and basketball courts that are so vacant now used to have groups lined up to use them on summer days when I was a kid. There wasn’t a whole lot of serious trouble to be gotten into either, because there were just as many adults out enjoying the day and generally keeping an eye on things as there were kids.
Not so today though. There’s hardly a soul to be seen on a pleasant Saturday, and that’s a shame.
I recently spoke to some friends of mine in other part of the country, and we’ve come up with some theories.
One is that there are just fewer people around nowadays who are likely to take part in outdoor recreation. Many of those people I saw out and about when I was a kid were Baby Boomers and their children. That generation of children, my generation, has been referred to as the Echo Generation since they were the offspring of the children of the Baby Boom Generation itself. The Echo Generation, which was not as large as the Baby Boom Generation, does not seem to have produced much of its own echo however, as many are choosing to have fewer children. So Baby Boomers are aging (and less likely to be taking part in outdoor activities), the Echo Generation is smaller, and the current generation of children is smaller still. One possible explanation for the lack of people outdoors these days is just plain lack of people.
Another theory is that people are just less oriented toward outdoor activity these days. The limitless entertainment choices our electronic gadgets set before us have made many into hermits. The urge to get outside and do something is less, since you can simply sit on the couch and do something with a lot less effort. Chances are, inside many of those houses with the empty yards were people glued to a screen of some sort, oblivious to the beautiful day outside their windows.
It’s a vicious circle too, because the less you get up and move around, the less likely you are to do so in the future. When I was young, people who were just plain fat were the exception rather than the rule. Now it seems to be the opposite. (Disclaimer: I am not even remotely a Mr. Universe and could really stand to drop about 20 pounds myself. I am not picking on fat people here.)
A third possibility is that here at the height of summer, a lot of people are enjoying the outdoors away from home, whether it is on a vacation or just on a day trip somewhere. While this is no doubt true to an extent, I find it hard to believe that it’s so quiet simply because everyone is out of town.
This phenomenon is hardly unique to my town, I’m sure. You hear time and again how people just don’t get out and do things anymore. What do you think? Are there just fewer people nowadays? Are electronics and laziness to blame for keeping people inside? Is everyone off somewhere having fun without us? Or is it something else? Leave a comment, drop an e-mail, or message me on Twitter. I’d like to know what you are seeing where you live and what you believe is behind it.
As for me, I am shutting this laptop and going out to wash my car.