2009-06-25 / Sam Bari

Embracing the new normal

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

The word “normal” appears to be evolving. That which was normal a few weeks, months or years ago may not necessarily be normal by today’s standards. If trends continue, certainly that which is normal today will certainly be everything but normal in the near future.

To be clear, “normal” does not necessarily mean “ordinary.” The two words are often confused. “Normal” is a standard that is deemed acceptable by the majority of a society, culture or group where a subject in question is being judged.

A person of normal intelligence could have an IQ somewhere between 90 and 140. A person of average intelligence would have an IQ of 100. Both are normal.

“Normal” also measures acceptable patterns of behavior. Less than two decades ago, it was normal for a man to ask a woman for a date. By today’s standards, women are just as likely to ask a man out as the other way around, without raising any eyebrows. Even that practice is becoming passé. The “date” among young adults is nearly a ritual of the past.

The “hookup” is the “new normal.” Students and people entering the workplace have demanding schedules and lifestyles that allow little time for the courtship practices of bygone years.

The “hookup” is synonymous with a “casual” relationship, or friendship without strong emotional ties or commitments. Depending on the ground rules set by the people involved, different degrees of intimacy and exclusivity need to be defined for the hookup to be successful. The hookup is not a one-night stand; it is generally a friendship that could have romantic overtones without commitment.

The “new normal” is defining itself in many areas of societal interactivity that range from the way we do business to the way we mate, marry and raise offspring.

Internet relationships that were considered dangerous a decade ago are now encouraged with the advent of reputable online dating services. These matchmaking companies require detailed histories of their clients, which they then validate. Applicants are matched with like-minded people seeking partners with similar backgrounds.

For a fee, men and women can review a number of candidates that fit their profiles and make a decision to correspond and eventually meet. Before they even exchange e-mails with a likely candidate, both parties can see a picture, know the age, weight, occupation, annual salary, employment history, education, marriage history, credit rating and other vital statistics of a person who allegedly meets their dating criteria.

A search of court records reveals any legal issues that applicants might be attempting to hide.

The extent of information provided in this age of accountability is so detailed that by the time people finally get together through one of the dating services, they have little to talk about. They learn everything about the other person beforehand. What do they do on their first date— sit around and ignore each other? The mystery of romance has succumbed to the information age and the scrupulous eye of the statistician.

The jury is still out on how long these researched relationships survive, but if reports from users of the services are to be believed, the practice provides a comfort zone that makes exploring the possibility of a more serious relationship a bit easier.

Not to be close-minded to establishing a “new normal” in many areas of societal interactivity, but matching like-minded people statistically negates the wonderful surprises that are often gleaned from experiencing the offerings of another culture.

The magic of spontaneous attraction and the curiosity stimulated by everything from pheromones to a different point of view should not be lost. Clinical, statistically-driven matchmaking could divide multicultural societies even more than they are already divided.

Imagine if one of the required computerized matching categories was politically biased. If the computer listed Republican, Democrat and “other,” and one person checked Democrat or Republican while the other person checked “other,” the two people could be considered incompatible.

It would be sad if people who checked “other” did so because they had never lived in a democratic society. That would not necessarily mean they were adverse to a democracy, it would just mean they hadn’t lived in one. What if they were born in a kingdom?

We should tread cautiously before we firmly establish a “new normal” in many areas of day-today life. There is something appealing about the adventure of experimentation that we enjoy by living in a system we can’t understand.

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