With this week’s post The Perfect Response reaches a milestone. This is the 200th weekly offering on this site. Each has addressed issues common to all of us in this “age of distraction.”  Our Analytics numbers indicate that there are about 1000 active users who visit the site each month.  Thank you for being one of them. Here’s a look back at five posts that garnered responses from readers. Click the title to see the full essay.  All others are listed and accessible using the “Published Posts” link below the masthead. 

1. Lunch Anyone? 

Singer-songwriter Paul Simon was suggested as  a good lunch companion.  He  has been a stream-of-consciousness poet for several generations.  Another liked the idea of sharing a meal with Jesus.  It’s hard to quarrel with that choice.  But the guest of honor would probably make me a nervous eater. Did I order to much? Should I have shared it? And why didn’t I suppress the joke about turning my water into wine?  (September 2, 2017)

2. Sometimes the Best Response is No Response

There are many circumstances when the urge to respond is worth suppressing.  Sometimes saying nothing is better than any other alternative: less wounding or hurtful, or simply the best option in the presence of a communication partner who is out for the sport of a take-down. (July 4, 2014)

3. Close Quarters

As little closets expected to hold 10 or 12 people, elevators represent the triumph of necessity over comfort. Walking twelve flights is a good workout. But no one wants to arrive at their business destination looking like they just finished the New York Marathon. So in the cramped space of the little vertical room, eyes are averted to the ceiling, the poster advertising the restaurant in the lobby, or to a middle distance that is supposed to relieve others of the need to respond.  (December 5, 2014)

4. The Necessity of Acknowledgement 

The essential ritual of acknowledging another is a cornerstone of our sociality. “Communication” can mean transferring the most complex of ideas or feelings.  But stripped to its essential core, it usually includes a gesture that confirms another person’s worth. (November 1, 2014)

5. Are We Losing Our Kids to Conversational Silence?

Until the advent of widespread electric telegraphy in the 1850s, and with the exception of the printed word, direct communication with another in the same space has always anchored human communities. The very idea of a sociology of human relationships is mostly predicated on the expectation that we have direct and real-time access to each other. (December 9, 2015).



From Citizens to Consumers

There is something wrong with a culture that reduces its citizens to consumers. Citizens should be free agents; they must be more than moving targets for marketers pushing products.

The current news about the Federal Communications Commission’s intent to end enforcement of ‘net neutrality’ rules next month may seem like an arcane shift in policy.  No doubt Americans may have more pressing concerns.  But the proposed action to end the requirement that portals require easy access to all internet sites is troubling.  It represents nothing less than the slow drift of American policy-making toward oligarchy, or the dominance of the culture by the favored and the rich.  Under the new rules, there is the potential for educational and informational sites to be devalued by service providers in favor of sites that can pay for special treatment, meaning faster “load” rates and ease of searching.  Indeed, under the new rules, a site may be ignored completely. Full disclosure here: I and other non-commercial sites will be negatively affected because we are not selling things. Wikipedia, bloggers, think tanks, non-profit resources like the Pew Research Center will be put at a disadvantage.  By contrast,, Walmart and streaming services who sell content have nothing to fear.

Defenses of the change heard from the FCC and supporters almost always mention how the policy change will benefit “consumers.”  These days the presumption is that the internet is the premier venue for selling products and services. But as important the internet of things has become, we must not forget the internet of ideas. Indeed, the original reason for inventing “hypertext” and a network of networks in the 1980s was to ease the ability of researchers to communicate with each other and share their work. Online selling would come much later.

There is something wrong with a culture that reduces its citizens to consumers. Citizens should be free agents; they must be more than moving targets for marketers pushing products. We need only look to China to see how this shift in policy could play out.

The Chinese standard of living has risen dramatically.  Friends who grew up in China report that they are both amazed and appalled to revisit the country and find friends who have become rabid materialists.  They live to shop and acquire “prestige” products. For the middle class, the Communist state has become a haven of consumerism. At the same time, political discussion on the web is risky. Chinese authorities regularly prosecute citizens for espousing views hostile to the party or its leaders.  And a “Great Fire Wall” has descended that makes it nearly impossible to read online materials that represent the internet of ideas: allegedly “extreme” stories coming from the BBC, the New York Times, or local bloggers concerned about crime or political corruption. By and large, American companies doing business there accept these rules as the price to pay for access to lucrative markets.

To be sure, we are not a one-party state like China.  But the FCC decision will move us closer to being a culture where large corporate internet providers will have the power to monitor and censor sites deemed less worthy or less willing to pay for access.  What may be a boon for American business may come at the cost of the public discussion of ideas.