Thursday, March 30, 2006

MEME: Tuesday Two - Episode 23

A new piece of equipment at work has me thinking about the wonders of technology. That's the topic of this week's question.

For those who have never played, the rules are simple: I offer two different questions, both related to the same topic, but you only choose one of them to actually answer.

Carly of "Ellipsis...Suddenly Carly" was first to answer last week's question for the second week in a row. Congratulations, Carly!

Now, onto this week's choice of questions. And remember: don't answer both questions!


In general, do you think technology makes our lives easier or harder, and why?


What "modern marvel" could you most do without, and why?

Choose A or B, (indicate which question you're answering!) then either answer the question in a comment or answer it in your journal and include the link in a comment. (To be considered "first to play," a link must be to the specific entry in which you answered the question.)

Remember: choose one or the other...not both!

I'm answering Question A this week:

Technology is a double-edge sword; it giveth and it taketh away. I think that technology has made our physical lives much easier than the lives of the folks a few generations back. It has also destroyed the potential for the vast majority of the populace, ie. the poor, the working class, and the middle class. The truly rich have other issues which we won't deal with today.

Today, technology affords us instant communications. Instant access to information. No longer must one sit down, compose one's thoughts, then (and only then) committing them to paper or parchment. Sent off, with barely concealed patience, to await a reply a week, a month or years in the coming. No longer do we wait our turn on a party line, having to pay exorbitant rates to call a relative a state away, and all the time knowing that every single word said will be known by all in the neighborhood by the close of business tomorrow. No, we have pagers on our belts, Blue-toothed cell phones glued to our ears around the clock such that you are either truly deprived or truly rich if you are unavailable to everyone and their brother 24/7.

Nor do we make our living by the strength of our backs and the sweat of our brow, for the most part. We have machinery to do the heavy lifting these days. Machines to do our thinking; answering our every whim twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.

Unlike many of you, I live in a old house (circa 1856) and grew up in an even older house (1683 - older in comparison to the vast majority of housing in the United States of America). I live in a part of the world at war with itself over the advances of technology. My home was geared to early industrialized society's technology. That's the technology of wood heat, horses as prime movers, centralized supply and services, home grown food and manual labor for all. In the one hundred fifty years of this house's existence, it has seen electricity added, running water added, bathrooms added, insulation and storm windows added. It has seen the heat source change from individual room wood stoves, to a central, wood-fired hot air furnace, to an oil-fired boiler and back again to wood stoves and individual oil stoves. Still and all, the fact of the matter is the house is not much warmer than when it was built in the 1850's. It's just warmer for different technological reasons.

So too the lives of it's inhabitants have changed. The head of household no longer farms, providing milk to many of the neighbors and city folk they once took milk to via horse-drawn wagon on a daily basis from this farm located 8 miles from the downtown of the second largest city in Maine. That was about as far out as one could be and still bring product to your customers in the city behind a horse in a one day round trip. This farm no longer supports a dozen people, all needed to make it function smoothly with industry and benefit to all. It supports no one now. The economics of farming are such that this 100 acres are no longer viable as a profitable economic unit. Family farms must needs be a part-time operation. “Real income” is derived from the service sector economy, dishing up hamburgers and asking, “Do you want fries with that, Ma'am?

A large family is no longer needed nor desirable. One, possibly two children are all that anyone needs to assure replication and continuation of a family name. No longer are eight or nine offspring needed in order to assure survival of family from the ravages of time, disease and infant mortality. You know, it is considered a great tragedy these days to bury one's child where once it was a reasonable expectation to lose two or three prior to adulthood to disease and accidents. My wife must needs be no longer a slave 18 hours a day to assure the domestic tranquility; instead she slaves at an outside job for 8 hours a day to support the entire family – me.

Technology has eased the burden of hard physical labor to such an extent that the majority of citizens in western civilization fights obesity on a daily basis, suffers from ennui, and pays for the privilege of exercising muscles in gyms and spas across the land. Instead of the short, brutish life expectancy of a hundred fifty years ago, the technology rich pay for their bounty with extraordinary high stress, inability to sleep, chronic insufficient sleep well into their seventies and eighties – ages unheard of by most people just three or four hundred years ago.

So yes, life is easier and we live longer. We have so much food we've become fat. But I can not say, despite all that technology has to offer, that we are any happier than the citizens of 150 years ago. In point of fact, our general level of satisfaction with life may even be lower. We work far longer hours than our ancestors did, most of us at jobs we hate, for and with people we despise. Family unity and cohesion has fallen into disrepute. Today's students have more to learn by sixth grade than most adults knew in their entire lifetime. However, today's students are so distracted by the wonders of technology, hypnotized by mass media, and intoxicated by illegal substances and the surge of hormones in their systems as amplified by additives in the feed of the cows and pigs they eat and the milk they drink, that they border on the edge of illiteracy – and they're too ignorant to give a damn. Something to work on in the future, I guess, eh?

And so it goes...

You can join in by going to Patrick's Weekender and snagging the questions each week, answering one in your blog and leaving a link to your answer there in the comments. Easy. And expeditious, if you suffer from constipation. Sort of like Ex-lax, but gentler. Just ask Garrison Keilor about "Buttermilk Biscuits" while you're there -- he's a frequent contributor. To the New York Times' Sunday Book Section.

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