Thursday, April 19, 2007


It seems to me that the 20th century was the age of the institution, especially the big institution. In recent decades, it got so all of life was governed by institutions. You're born in a hospital, sent to day care and pre-school as soon as possible, then to public school (preferably in a big, "consolidated" district), then college, then off to a job with some big corporation, or else a big government agency or maybe a big non-profit organization. Then you retire, live in a "retirement community" until they ship you to a nursing home, and then back to the hospital to die.

Is it any wonder that people want some opportunities for personal contact, maybe some handmade art objects for their homes, some things that aren't mediated by big institutions? And I guess I've been sort of counter-cultural in this respect for a long time. In the 1980s there was some buzz in the media about self-employment and being an entrepeneur--I started my first business in 1975. When we started home schooling our kids in the early 80s, the HS community in the Cincinnati area where we lived was just seven families. And our church life had centered around small groups for several years before that. Our second child was born at home, and the third would have been if we could have arranged it. (He's now 19 and getting ready to move out. Meanwhile, our daughter--the child who was born at home--has kept the tradition going; her third daughter was born at home this winter.)

Back in the 90s I read a book called "Megatrends" by John Naisbitt. One of the things he predicted was that with all the high-tech stuff in our society, people were going to want what he called "high touch" things to balance it--hand-made pottery and other art (music is still on CDs, but there's been a drift away from synthesizers to acoustic instruments in the last few years), anything where they can feel they touch real live people. I don't recall him saying anything about the Internet. It may not have taken off at the time he was writing. And it's sort of a paradox--obviously high-tech, but a tool for touching people--and it has made it possible to find kindred souls all over the world, even if there are none in your own location.

I don't think institutions are going to completely disappear from the landscape for a long while yet. But their dominance is fading--hospital costs are skyrocketing, public schools are facing increasing criticism of their results (Biblical term, "fruit"), the auto industry is hemorrhaging (I'm real glad I didn't follow my Dad's advice to get a foreman's job at Ford), and the house church movement and other emerging church forms are pioneering less-institutional forms of church life. It's an interesting, if sometimes scary, time to be alive.

1 comment:

ded said...

don't know if you will see this comment or not, but have enjoyed your posts from back here in April.

We had two kids at home out of five. Since I was the principal of our Christian school, we never considered home-schooling.

The Internet is a paradox. High technology opening connections between kindred souls across great distances.

Glad to be reading stuff from you.