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"Touch Grass" (Thinks Out Loud Episode 358)

Young woman smiling while lying in the grass

We’re not just living through digital transformation, we’re living through a massive transformation of our lives. A century ago, our grandparents and great grandparents lived through remarkable change with the introduction of telephones and electricity and flight, while experiencing wars and pandemics and economic disruptions (plus good stuff like romances and weddings and births). But circumstances often forced them to stay connected to nature, to go outside, to walk under blue skies, and feel the grass beneath their feet.

We have also lived through remarkable change with the birth of the internet and mobile and digital, while experiencing wars and pandemics and economic disruptions (plus good stuff like romances and weddings and births). Shouldn’t we also stay connected to nature, go outside, walk under blue skies, and feel the grass beneath our feet?

This episode of Thinks Out Loud is a reminder that, every once in a while, you might want to "touch grass."

Here are the show notes for you.

"Touch Grass" (Thinks Out Loud Episode 358) Headlines and Show Notes

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Running time: 16m 35s

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Transcript: Touch Grass

Well hello again, everyone. Welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs.

So, I want to start this week with a story. My wife and I have been streaming Downton Abbey over the last couple of months. We’d never seen it. I realize this show’s been around for a while, but we’d never seen it. It’s great. It’s phenomenal. It starts with World War I breaking out. It includes the flu pandemic. The Beer Hall Putsch in Germany is talked about in later seasons. Characters die on the regular. All kinds of crazy stuff happens, right?

And it’s not all bad, of course. Along the way, this classic manner that these wealthy landed gentry live in, get telephones and electricity and radio and a phonograph. Their lives are frequently turned upside down. And, of course, there are romances and marriages and births and parties and all sorts of fun too.

I’ll tell you one of the weirdest things about the show, from a modern perspective, is how much they walk from place to place. How much they’re outside. There aren’t a lot of cars and they often just stroll around the village to get where they need to go.

Downton Abbey Reminds Me of My Grandmother

But anyway, there are massive changes in the lives of these characters, these people, all throughout the series. It’s particularly resonant with me, because their lives roughly parallel the lifetime of my late grandmother. The youngest daughter on the family on the show is just a bit older than my grandmother was; she was born just a few years before my grandmother. So my grandmother could have been a younger sister still to the people of this family.

Massive Changes and Disruption in Their Lives

And my wife and I got to talking about the change that people of that generation experienced, both during the run of the series, during the period covered in the series, and the amount that they’d see in their lifetimes that followed.

The Great Depression was literally right around the corner. World War II was not far behind. My grandmother was born before the Wright Brothers flew and when she died, we were sending up space shuttles regularly. All of that occurred just in the span of my grandmother’s life.

Huge disruption in their lives. Some of it good, some of it bad, but all of it different in meaningful ways from what they were used to, from what came before.

Massive Changes and Disruption in Our Lives

We’ve lived through some massive disruption, as well. This year has been hard. Last year was especially hard. Hell, this decade has been tough. We’ve lived through one of the most traumatic and difficult periods in our lives, if not in modern history. We had a global pandemic, a major recession, elections and riots and protests, a rapid recovery from that recession, vaccines, the Great Resignation, “work from home/work from anywhere,” all the economic uncertainty that’s going on now, and on and on and on.

This has been going on, by the way, for some 15 years now. If you think about the Great Recession, that was only 14 years ago. The recovery that followed. The birth of the iPhone. The iPhone’s been around for just 15 years. Go back just a little bit further and Facebook is only about 18 years old. If you live in the States, it can’t even buy a drink, right? Twitter is younger. TikTok is a child.

We’ve seen an immense amount of change. And I bet for many of you, there have also been romances and marriages and births and parties and all sorts of fun too.

There’s good, there’s bad, just like the imaginary characters of Downton Abbey. We’ve all seen some good, we’ve all seen some bad, but all of it different in meaningful ways from what you were used to.

How Did We Live Our Lives Before Mobile Phones?

I was having a discussion with my younger kid the other day. They’re 24. And it just came up that we were talking about the days before cell phones. My kid has always had a cell phone. They’ve had one since they were nine, for reasons that we’re not going to get into here in the show. But they’ve had one for a long time. And how, before cell phones, you had to meet your friends at a particular time and a particular place.

If you were going out with a group of people, you agreed were going to meet in front of the movie theater at 7:00 PM, or we’re going to meet at the mall, outside the KB Toys or outside the Sam Goodie’s, or outside a particular store, or what have you. And we’re going to be there at two in the afternoon. Because if you were late, no one could reach you. No one had any idea where you were. And if you were 10 to 15 minutes late, people might wait around. But if you were later than that, they started to worry. Especially as you got older, because if you were an hour late, you missed a bus or there was heavy traffic, people started to think you might be dead, right?

I’m not saying I ever did that. I’m not saying I ever made people worry that something terrible had happened. I’m just saying that my mom finally took it for granted that I probably wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere; she was more shocked when I showed up on time, once upon a time in my life. But those were the only two options. You were on time—or you were dead. There was no middle ground.

Digital Has Shaped a Generation’s Behaviors

My kid had never had that experience in their life. They’ve had a mobile phone for their entire life, essentially. It’s just been this remarkable difference that many of us have lived through. And many of these things are trends we’ll live with for decades to come:

  • The digitization of our work
  • The digitization of our lives
  • The ease with which we can browse and shop and buy
  • The ambient connection we have with all of the people in our lives.

You can be an hour late now. You shouldn’t, but at least your friends and family know you’re not dead in a ditch. I have friends who I maintain a connection with today, who I haven’t seen face to face in years, not because of the pandemic, but because we travel in different circles or things like that. But I know what’s going on in their lives. When I go to my high school reunions or get together with people I went to college with, there’s not as much, ‘so, what have you been doing for the last 10 years?’ discussions that used to happen once upon a time with people. Whether through Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn, or what have you, we know what’s going on.

Changes Aren’t Always Good

Now, as I’ve said many times, when you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck. Some of these changes are bad. People can reach you any time, any place. Sometimes, regardless of whether you want them to or not. It can be really tough to unplug from the deluge of bad news out in the world. It can be tough to take a break. It can be tough to step away. And it can be easy to be overwhelmed by it.

But Many Changes Are Great

I also think many of these changes are genuinely good. We get enormous benefit from them. I remember a night early, early, early when I was a parent. My older kid was terribly sick overnight. This was in the late nineties and we had internet access. I may even have had a cable modem at that point. I was a very early adopter there. But even having had internet access, even having had potentially high speed internet access, my behaviors hadn’t changed much. I didn’t yet think about, ‘well, I’ll just go on the internet and find that.’

Plus, there wasn’t a lot of information that you could find. There also weren’t many great ways to find it. Yahoo! was a cool tool and something that I liked a lot, but it wasn’t something you could turn to readily say, “Oh my gosh! My kid has a high fever and is being terribly ill all over the place. What do I do?” You just didn’t have that kind of connection that we have today. Surfing the internet was mostly fun, but it was only just barely useful. It was only just barely beginning to insert itself into our lives in a meaningful way.

I Wouldn’t Want to Go Back If I Could

I bring this up for a reason. There may be bad today. There may be things that are terrible today. I also would not go back to that era if you paid me. It’s better now. I don’t want to be all “sunshine and rainbows;” there’s things that happen that are genuinely terrible. But overall we’ve seen more positive change than negatives, at least generally.

Yes, I understand there’s always some things that aren’t so great, but the point is we have experienced an enormous amount of change and those changes have been mostly good, with some bad thrown in as well.

Is “Touch Grass” an Insult?

All of this brings me to my point. You may have seen that there’s an insult or a sneer or a dis that people are using online right now in many cases, where they’ll say to somebody on a social media site, on Twitter: “Touch grass.” You’ve heard it. If you haven’t, it means, “Put down your phone, step away from your computer, go outside, feel the sunshine on your face, breathe. Touch grass.”

And I bring this up for a very specific reason. We are coming up on the last few weeks of the summer. We are going to keep diving into trends. We’re going to keep exploring the good, the bad, and everything in between here on Thinks Out Loud. There are lots of changes we’re living through in our lives right now. There are changes coming in our lives more than we’ve probably seen to this point. I’m going to keep talking about them. I’m going to keep talking with you about them. I’m going to start talking with other people about them, so that we can keep this conversation going.

I also want to let you know that this is going to be my last new episode for a couple of weeks, because touch grass. I’m going to stroll through the village to get to where I need to go for the next couple of weeks. You can do the same if you want. Go outside. Listen to older episodes if you want. But I mean this in a really heartfelt way, in a really sincere way. Touch grass. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.

Put down your phone. Step away from your computer. Go outside. Feel the sunshine on your face. Breathe. Stream some older television series, if you want to. But touch grass. And I’ll talk with you soon.

Show Credits

I want to remind you, as always, that you can find the show notes for this episode, as well as an archive of all our past episodes, by going to Again, that’s Just look for episode 358.

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With that said, I want to say one more time, how much I appreciate the fact that you join us here each week. It means so very, very much to me. I wouldn’t do this show without you. Don’t think about the fact that I’m taking a little break for a couple weeks as anything other than just recharging my battery, so we can keep the conversation going.

I know I’ve said this before, but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past year or two, through all the nonsense we’ve all been living through, it’s how important the people around me are. And you are a huge part of those people. Thank you so much for being there for me. Thanks so much for listening. And I just can’t wait to keep the conversation going.

So, I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week. I hope you have a great weekend. And I’ll look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until we speak again, please be well, be safe, and as always take care, everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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