Significance. Here’s one theory: In an agricultural society (think Israel in 100 AD or America in the early 1900s) every member of the family is given a significant task. That task is significant because if it’s not accomplished the family suffers. If little Johnny Bob doesn’t milk the cows the family has nothing to drink, cook with or sell. If little Melchizadek doesn’t shepherd the sheep the family has nothing to wear, to cook with or sell. Significance isn’t merely personal. I am significant to us.
For most of history humans have been shaped by this sort of society. Some evolutionary biologists have even argued that our brains are now conditioned to desire the agricultural society’s “us” version of significance. It’s in our genes…or somewhere deeper.
Consider America since the Industrial Age. Adults do the working and wage earning and the buying of stuff, most of which doesn’t feel all that life-and-death significant in an affluent culture like ours. Kids are given sudo-significant tasks like cleaning their rooms and mowing the yard. The health, wealth and safety of the family don’t hinge upon these kinds of tasks.
Without a significant task our interests devolve from us to I. Significance is sought from those things which make me happy or set me apart in some way: drugs, free love, evangelism, higher education, rebellion against “The Man,” becoming “The Man,” little league, dance class, guitar lessons, blog traffic, and church attendance.
Seven and a half hours of TV a day, WiFi, cell phones, DVDs, MP3s, STDs, SUVs, PTA, NBA, VFW, PhDs, lots of MSG and no significance.
In our industrialized modern nation significant tasks are hard to find. Without them I has replaced us and we feel insignificant.
That’s one theory.