The draft, voting online, and paying extra to cut in line

What do the end of the military draft, voting online, and paying extra to go to the head of the line at Universal Studios have in common?

WBUR’s Cognoscenti blog says they’re all examples of the declining shared experience in America.

The common American experience is disappearing. The single most important loss was President Richard Nixon’s elimination of selective service in 1973. A nation shows its commitment to shared experience when both rich and non-rich must risk their lives to defend their country.

A new threat, all the more insidious because it is promoted as a democratic boon, is Oregon’s decision to let voters vote online. If this idea catches on, we will lose one of the few remaining activities that people from all walks of life do elbow-to-elbow. Instead of rubbing up against their fellow citizens at the polls and perhaps even exchanging friendly greetings, voting will be yet another thing we do in the privacy of our own homes.

Indeed, V.I.P. passes to amusement parks and express lines for business class travelers are trivial matters compared to the end of the military draft. Nonetheless, they provoke outrage because they are too visible to ignore. It is easy to let your mind wander away from the disgrace of depending on hired hands to defend your country. But if one is standing on line for “Jurassic Park: The Ride,” deriving some solace from knowing that those in front of you all patiently waited their turn, it is aggravating and demeaning to watch latecomers just saunter in because they have $300 to burn.

I’ve shared similar thoughts with Mary Lucia on The Current, only using the end of AM radio in the ’60s as an example. We all listened to the same radio station, and all experienced hearing a song at a particular time. It’s what bonded us then.

But technology is what it is and we’re able to personalize and time shift our pleasures.

Still, it does occasionally lead to the question: What bonds us now?

  • Joe D

    “Still, it does occasionally lead to the question: What bonds us now?”

    It seems to be everyone’s fear of change…

  • Sports!

    One of the last major shared experiences left in our country. Sure, it’s easier to DVR/Tivo a game now and watch it later … but you lose something when you don’t watch it LIVE. Watching the game doesn’t matter as much once you know the outcome. And social media makes it fun to watch sporting events live so you can participate in the online dialogue with friends.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    Went to Universal about 10 years ago with my family on Christmas Eve. The lines then were tolerable but if I ever go back I’m buying the VIP ticket without a second thought. Especially if I have kids. In fact, I can’t think of any reason why I would go there if I didn’t have kids.

  • jaime

    I do have to say I get excited when I pull up next to a car and they are listening to the same radio station as me (usually The Current). It really does feel like a shared experience even though nothing is really exchanged.

    Although I like the act of actually going to a polling location to vote, I would rather have a larger voter turn out. So if voting online helps that number increase, I’m not opposed. But those people would miss out on the sticker. 🙂

  • John Peschken

    My Dad’s generation had a couple of bonding experiences. He was born in 1917, so grew up in the depression, joined the CCC, and was a fighter pilot in WWII. All of those experiences helped to bond people of his generation; maybe more than other recent trends in theme parks and social media have broken those bonds. WWII was the last war that had clear public support. We had the draft in Vietnam, but it did not bind us, it tore us apart.

    What binds us now? If the gap between rich and poor gets large enough, maybe a revolution.

  • MikeB

    I’m in favor of online voting. Especially since voting on a Tuesday in November will never change. The more participation, the better.

  • Tyler

    I would argue that broadcast TV (before the prevalence of cable) also was a national bonding agent.

    What bonds us now? Disasters. “Did you see the tornado…?”

  • Jim G

    Voting on-line? Yes, we would lose the bonding experience, but I heard today on MPR that only 49% of those voters eligible to vote for President did so in the past election. We can’t, or rather don’t, have a democracy because of this low participation rate. If we can collect billions of data points on Americans everyday we should be able to vote on-line and find a way to make it work. Another more democratic solution would be to give everyone a day off on election day and vote on-line too.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    I don’t think voting online would rob us of the experience any more than voting absentee or by mail does. I haven’t waited in a line to vote since 2004, my only recollection of that is the girl with a shirt that said “John Edwards is hot.”