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穷点儿也许能让我们的生活更充实

发布时间:2015/5/27 7:26:14|浏览次数:

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Before the BlackBerry: our recent affluence has diluted the old sense of community Photo: ALAMY

I was one of the luckier ones. My BlackBerry never actually collapsed in The Great Global Catastrophe last week – it just staggered a bit. But I was, nevertheless, absolutely furious. Not at the service disruption, which was a minor irritation, but because the public relations fiasco might push my favourite electronic device into extinction. And then I would be forced into buying one of those over-hyped, over-priced toys which the newly canonised Saint Steven of Apple had convinced people that they wanted.

Before the BlackBerry: our recent affluence has diluted the old sense of community - Being slightly poorer might enrich our lives

黑莓出现以前:近代的物质充裕削弱了过去的社区感。照片:ALAMY

 

我算是幸运的。在上周的全球大灾难里【译者注:指本月初蔓延全球的黑莓网络故障】,我的黑莓并没有崩溃——它只是趔趄了一下。不过我还是非常愤怒——不是因为中断的服务,那只是让我有点儿不爽罢了——我愤怒是因为那彻底失败的公关可能会将我所钟爱的电子产品推向灭绝,那样我就不得不买一个那被新近封为苹果圣史蒂文的说服大家需要购买的、经过大肆炒作、价格高得离谱的玩具了。

The relentless pressure to upgrade, to keep up with the latest state-of-the-art innovations, may be at its most obvious and ruthless in the electronic gadget business. But that competitiveness (and the brilliant manipulation of public perceptions that it involves) is just a function of a wider cultural change: people could not be persuaded or bullied into buying things they did not know they needed if they were not quite so rich. (Or if society didn’t offer them so many simulacrums of personal wealth in the form of easy credit.)

在电子产品这个行业里,要求不断升级、跟上最新时代创新的压力,可能已经公开得不能再公开、冷血得不能再冷血了。可是这种竞争(以及对大众视听的聪明扭曲)其实只是更大范围内文化变迁的一个函数而已:如果人们没有钱,(或者社会没有通过随便就能取得的信用而制造那么多的个人财富假象,)就无法说服或者逼迫他们购买他们并不知道自己需要的东西。

Having lived in Britain since the 1960s, when even many middle-class homes did not have telephones, central heating or fridges, let alone the full panoply of home entertainment equipment that now counts as standard issue, I am astounded by the change in expectations. Am I grateful on behalf of a younger adult generation that takes for granted the ownership of a car, a warm house and the labour-saving appliances that make family life so much less exhausting? Of course I am. Do I think that this affluence and everything that it buys are undiluted blessings – that there has been no loss in this gallop into acquisitiveness? No, I do not.

我从上个世纪六十年代起就一直生活在英国,那时很多中产阶级家庭也没有电话、中央供暖或冰箱,更不用说现在已经成为标准配置的全套家庭娱乐设施了。人们在期望值上发生的变化真让我吃惊。年轻的一代觉得拥有一辆汽车、一所温暖的房子、以及让家庭生活不再疲于奔命的种种省力装置是理所当然的,我要不要因此为他们而心存感激呢?当然。我是否认为这种物质的充裕以及所有花钱可以买到的东西都纯属好事,而在大家急于获取的过程中没有一丝一毫的损失呢?不,我可不这样认为。

Maybe I will sound too much like an old puritanical Marxist, ranting about the capitalist conspiracy to lure gullible consumers into buying more and more, if I say that the coming reduction of affluence (what economists call a “readjustment” in disposable income) might not necessarily be such a terrible thing. It is worth noting, on the conspiracy front, that the price of home entertainment goodies, which had been falling consistently for many years, has now dramatically leapt: DAB radios are far more expensive than traditional ones, as are “smart” televisions, which incorporate computers.

如果我说即将到来的财富削减(经济学家称之为可支配收入的“再分配”)并不一定那么糟糕,我听起来可能很象一个过时的清教徒式的马克思主义者,不停地数落着资本主义引诱容易上当受骗的消费者购买越来越多商品的阴谋。说到阴谋,有必要指出的是,家庭娱乐设施的价格在过去很多年里一直在下跌,现在突然大幅度上涨了:数字广播收音机比传统收音机贵了许多,同样昂贵的还有内置电脑的“智能”电视机。

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe profoundly in the value of mass prosperity and the ability of free markets to deliver it: the personal freedom, self-determination and dignity that come with financial independence are transforming for individuals and for the societies in which they are generally available. And yet, and yet… through this very independence that comes with relative wealth, something has been lost.

请别误会我。我完全相信社会繁荣的价值以及自由市场提供这一切的能力:经济独立所带来的个人独立、自我意志和尊严正在改变每一个人,也改变着他们身处其中的社会。可是,可是……人们在相对富裕后获得上述独立的同时,有些东西也消失了。

When our children were very small, we did not own a car, nor did many of our friends and neighbours – such a state being not uncommon in an inner London district in the 1970s. So the friends who did own cars used to give lifts to the supermarket, or to the doctor, or wherever, to those who did not. And nobody on ordinary middle-class earnings could afford a nanny – they looked then like a nearly extinct species – so we had au pairs, or used informal childminders (who were usually friends, or friends of friends).

在我们的孩子还小的时候,我们并没有汽车,多数我们的朋友和邻居也没有——这种情形在上个世纪七十年代的伦敦近郊并不少见。于是,有车的朋友经常会捎上没车的朋友去超市,去看医生,或者做其它杂事。那时一般中产阶级的收入也雇不起保姆——保姆当时几乎成为濒危物种了——于是我们就通过提供食宿来换取服务,或者使用非正式保姆来看孩子(这些通常都是朋友或者朋友的朋友)。

Some people solved their childcare problems by letting rooms in their homes to single mothers in return for childminding. (This was a very common arrangement – we could afford bigger houses in those days when property prices were so much lower.) Because we could not afford to pay for evening baby-sitting, we formed well-organised baby-sitting circles in which tokens were exchanged for hours – and these became life-saving neighbourhood friendship networks. (Were we part of a Big Society without giving it a name?)

有些人为了解决照看孩子的问题,就让单身母亲住到他们家里的空房间里,以此换取对孩子的照顾服务。(这在当时很普遍——那时的房子价格比现在低得多,所以我们买得起大房子。)因为请人在晚上看孩子太贵,我们就组织起看孩子的社交圈,用代币来交换小时——这些后来都成为救命的邻里友谊网络。(我们好象都是名符其实的大社会的成员呢,对不?)

In other words, we helped each other. Because we had so little money, we had to improvise mutual support systems. We became a true community precisely because we needed each other’s goodwill and assistance, and could not buy our way out of difficulties or practical problems. I know that parents now share school runs and arrange play dates during the holidays, and I am sure that neighbours are still helpful to one another in emergencies. But is there the same sense of extended family – of real interdependence – that there was when people relied on one another for day-to-day needs?

换句话说,我们互相帮助。因为手头不宽裕,我们不得不临时凑成互助的系统。正是因为我们无法花钱解决问题和一些实际的困难,需要彼此的善意和协助,我们才能成为真正的社区。我知道现在有些家长轮流接送孩子上下学,或者在假期里轮流组织活动日,我也相信邻居们在彼此遇到紧急状况时还是会互相帮助,但是那种大家庭的感觉,那种真正的相互依赖、相依为命的感觉,还跟从前一样吗?

This is what is known in political circles as “solidarity”, which was once a strong feature of working-class life before (as Noel Gallagher of all people, noted last week ) its traditional values were junked in favour of celebrity culture and materialism. By the 1970s, when Britain’s economy was in a spiral of decline, the middle classes were impoverished, too, and so they discovered their own resources – and the consolations of social connectedness.

这在政治圈里称之为“休戚与共”。这曾经是工薪阶层生活的重要特征(就象诺尔·加拉赫上周所说的那样),直到它的传统价值被抛到一边,取而代之的是明星文化和物质主义。到了上个世纪七十年代、英国经济每况愈下时,中产阶级也变穷了,结果他们发现了自己所拥有的资源以及与社会相联所带来的安慰。

But it is not just relations between families that have been disrupted, or attenuated, by prosperity. Much has been written about the mental isolation that is bred in children and adolescents by computer addiction: that quasi-autistic condition that obsessive interaction with a screen seems to inculcate. It may or may not be true that this compulsion can actually have neurological consequences, as Baroness Greenfield, the ex-director of the Royal Institution, has claimed. But what cannot be denied is that a child or an adult who is so preoccupied with relating to an inanimate object is cut off – in a world of his own, as they say. The household affluent enough to provide each member with his own television, computer and smartphone is spared the need for most forms of social contact.

物质繁荣导致的并不仅限于家庭关系的破裂和贬值。已经有很多文章讨论过电脑癖给孩子和青春期少年带来的精神孤立,也就是过度使用显示屏所导致的准自闭症情况。目前还不能确定是不是象皇家研究所的前主任格林菲尔德男爵夫人所说的那样,这种强迫行为会对神经系统产生影响,但是无可否认的是,一个完全被无生命物体所占据的孩子或成人,注定只能生活在他自己的世界里。那些富裕得可以为其中每个成员提供他自己的电视、电脑和智能手机的家庭,便失去了绝大多数社交的需要。

In a quaint historical era that some of us can just recall, families had to negotiate what would be watched on the one and only television in the house. This process was not without friction – particularly between the genders and the generations – but at least you got to know each other’s preferences and predilections, and the arguments in defence of those preferences offered training in social give-and-take. So the individual household, walled up in its suburban palace with every conceivable form of electronic equipment, can be isolated from its community. And the members of that household – staring at their individual screens or texting away on their phones – can lead lives separate from one another.

我们有些人也许还能记得,在过去,一家只有一台电视,家里人需要通过协商来决定看什么节目。这个过程有时充满摩擦,特别是在不同性别和不同代的人之间,但至少你会了解每个人的喜好和偏爱,而且那些为自己的嗜好辩解的争论还有助于学习在社会中给予和索取。所以那些生活在郊区宫殿的围墙里、拥有一切电子设备的人家,便从社区中脱离了。而这样家庭里的成员——盯着他们各自的屏幕,或者在各自的手机上发着短信——便会过着彼此完全不相干的生活。

Is it possible that if people are allowed to adjust to being just a bit poorer – if the heavy hand of regulation on such things as informal childcare, for example, can be removed – that there might be a chance to recover something valuable that has been almost forgotten?

有没有这样的可能,当人们习惯于变得穷一点儿的时候——并且,在诸如非正式保姆方面的法规重手能够被移开的话——也许我们有机会重新找回一些几乎被忘却的过去的价值?


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