Random thoughts during a pandemic

As my wife’s health returned after a very scary episode with a n irregular heart rhythm and a near-fatal drug reaction, we decided to buy Apple watches for ourselves so that we could have access to their heart monitor and EKG functions. We have also found that we pay quite a bit of attention to the fitness application on the watch. The electrophysiologist recommended 30 minutes of exercise each day and we have been making sure to follow that recommendation. However, we have discovered that the watch has a very strange definition of exercise. Yesterday, I spent the morning doing physical work. I ran a chainsaw in the woodlot for about 2 1/2 hours. It was physically exhausting work for me. I raised a sweat. I had to stop on occasion to catch my breath. I kept that machine working. Then I emptied the garbage in the church. The bag was heavy and near the limits of my ability to lift it when I got it into the dumpster. After that I washed mirrors, refilled supplies in bathrooms, scrubbed seven toilets and mopped floors. At the end of the morning, having worked four solid hours, the workout application on my watch said I had engaged in three minutes of exercise. After lunch, we went for a leisurely walk in the park and I picked up 48 minutes of exercise in 48 minutes. The people who wrote the algorithms for the watch understood workouts, but not work. The watch doesn’t give credit for work, only for workouts. I’m eager to try it out with actual rowing in a boat on the lake. My suspicion is that it records rowing on a rowing machine as a workout, but it won’t recognize rowing an actual boat. I’m not sure what this says about our society, but it i slightly troubling to me. I still value actual work above a workout.

While walking in the park we noticed that although the school district has the power to cancel prom because of the pandemic and fears of a spreading virus, they were only able to cancel the dance. Prom was definitely on yesterday. We saw couple after couple dressed formally getting their pictures taken in the park. They were not following the rules of social distancing. None of this six feet apart business for prom pictures. And they weren’t wearing face masks for their pictures, either. For a couple of decades of my life, I wrote educational materials for adolescents. I wrote more lessons for the Seasons of the Spirit curriculum than any other author. I wrote for a half dozen curriculum projects. I edited youth resources for the first set of online educational resources produced by our denomination. I studied adolescent behavior and learning patterns closely. One of the things that I learned was how powerful social forces influence the decisions of youth. the combination of surging hormones and a not-fully-developed prefrontal cortex results in really good kids making really bad decisions. Under peer pressure youth will take risks that seem to their parents and other adults to be incredibly bad. Youth will risk their lives and futures through experimentation with alcohol. They will risk their lives and others’ by drinking and driving. They will risk unplanned pregnancy and disease through risky sexual behavior. They will risk health and life experimenting with illegal drugs. The threat of a virus that seems to make adults a lot sicker than it does youth probably is not going to deter them from social interaction.

We see lots of signs that the culture has shifted a lot since we were adolescents. Ons sign of that on the weekend fo the 50th anniversary of our prom date was in the formal clothes the youth were wearing. A black suit with a white shirt and a bright blue bowtie might have been seen in our day. But yesterday the wearer of that suit had a pair of blue and silver nike running shoes to complete the ensemble. I remember polishing and shining my shoes for prom, sort of wishing that I could afford a brown pair, but knowing that the black pair would be acceptable for the occasion. There are a lot more color choices for boys these days. There are more choices for girls, too. In addition to all of the choices of colors for dresses, some of which are made from fabrics that simply didn’t exist 50 years ago, there are choices of color for hair that would not have occurred to us.

All of this brought about the question of how, in the midst of all of this social change, prom continues to exist. Why is that one of the thoroughly entrenched traditions of our culture. A lot of other things that we did have passed away. High schools don’t sponsor baccalaureate services any more. Why is prom a tradition that remains? I think that part of the answer is that parents and grandparents have totally bought into prom. Most of the social media posts I saw about prom this weekend were posted by parents. Pictures of getting har and makeup done, of fancy dresses and suits, didn’t seem to dominate the kids’ posts, but were prevalent in adult posts. I suppose this could be that I’m not active on the same platforms frequented by the youth. FaceBook is pretty much a media for old folks these days.

Visiting with some 20-somethings a couple of days ago, following physical distancing guidelines, I asked what has changed the most in their lives. The most common answer was, “I can’t go to the gym any more.” These are physically fit young adults most of whom belong to the same CrossFit gym. The gym is closed and they are left having to work out alone at home. Listening to them is another example of how our culture has made a distinction between work and a workout. I’m not sure what the difference is, but workouts are way more important to young adults than they were to me at that age.

The culture has shifted, A lot of things have changed. And a few things have remained the same.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!