You don’t have to be that old (I’m not) to remember 3rd grade social studies books promising that we’ll all live on the moon someday. And we’ll drive around in cars that fly. And eat food that looks like pellets.
Now while the processed food that looks like what we feed the dog has bountifully come true, I find both my home and car still solidly on the ground. “Modern” life, so magically sci-fi when I was eight, is reduced to phones that — because the fliptop is outdated — no longer resemble what Captain Kirk used in Star Trek to communicate with the Enterprise, and while this is really cool and all, no one mentioned when these devices came out that they would be like invisible chains, linking us to our boss, banker, telemarketer, collection agent, landlord, old girlfriend/boyfriend, and anybody else who wants to get a hold of us instantly, and is very, very irritated when we do not reply within the minute.
This . . . is freedom?
“Life will be so much simpler in the future!” our social studies propaganda promised. Machines will take care of mundane tasks, saving us hours of time, which means that we won’t have to work as much!
(This, many people are finding out, is sort of true, and while machines that take over people’s jobs mean that they don’t have to work as many hours, they also don’t get paid much in wages, a minor fact the textbooks neglected to mention. Corporate oligarchies do not reward their servants for not working.)
But there’s an odd thing about technology and its labor-saving devices that promise to save us time: the time they save is usually required to be invested somewhere else, most notably in some form of work. The faster the computer can perform a task, the more time there is for the computer operator (who’s presently a human being) to perform another task, frequently work that used to be done by another co-worker before that person’s position was eliminated.
Time, we are frequently reminded except in the social studies textbooks, is money, and money too frequently is the primary concern of a businesses, corporations, organizations, or establishments parsing the time of their employees into smaller and smaller particles, with the principle goal of ensuring that every minute is used to . . . make more money.
It sounds simplistic and brutal, but then again, greed isn’t particularly complicated.
When we get home, presuming that there are no texts or calls from work, we are “free” to do what we wish with our time — prepare dinner, put on a load of laundry, wash dishes, feed the dog, vacuum the floor — and when all the fun stuff is done, then we really have time to . . .
Surf on our phone.
Play video games.
Answer the text from the office.
Check up on what random acquaintances posted on Facebook.
Watch the news.
Re-check our email.
Mindlessly sit in front of a movie.
Answer another the text from the office.
Call the client who’s upset about something.
Are we doomed? Is this what life, not described in social studies textbooks, promises, and only more of the same?
Possibly, if we resign ourselves to it. But quite probably not, if we recognize that we have been given one life, and we are the only ones who can live it.
The first step is recognizing that phones used to be confined to a physical location, like a room in the house, and when a person wasn’t there, the call didn’t get answered. And for many many years, while this situation was considered normal, business went on, people lived their lives, and major crises did not occur. Bosses and old girlfriend/boyfriends and people wanting money from us simply had to wait until someone was there to answer the phone. (And, if someone was there to answer the phone, but didn’t choose to do so, they didn’t.)
And yes, initially employers and masters and commanders and leaders will be irritated if we untie ourselves from the phone, because they like the system they way it’s going now, but if great things are supposedly accomplished through theoretical grass roots marches and protests, greater things will come about when real, ordinary individual people independently decide to make small, manageable decisions that are best for their own lives. With the added bonus that we don’t have to change our Facebook backgrounds to participate.
The second step is recognizing that, if we want to accomplish something worthwhile, something that makes us feel good about the breathing we’re performing on the planet, then we need to cultivate the ability to physically do something — and passively engaging ourselves in media, social media, movie media, YouTube clips, and funny cat videos — ultimately does not increase our ability to create.
Like greed, simplicity isn’t complicated, and like greed, it becomes easier with practice. That’s why we call it simple.
For more on this subject, please read When Technology Ambushes Our Time.
The artwork in my articles is by Steve Henderson, who creates scenes of beauty meant to slow us down to a state of thought and meditation. Find his original paintings on his website, Steve Henderson Fine Art. Steve’s work is available as prints at the following online retailers: