It may have been Plato’s mom who inspired the proverb that speaks to necessity being the mother of invention, but it was my Grandpa who said, “Oh sweet luxury don’t you cry, you’ll be a necessity bye and bye”.
What is ‘Necessity’? And ‘Luxury’? Both are curious terms. Their very definitions are subjective and at the end of the day, do we know their collective purpose?
All week I’ve been getting my shorts in a bunch over a car commercial. Yes, I know it’s sad with so much more in Washington to be angry with so I’ll spare you details enough to say the television spot features a teen boy with his mom in a big empty parking lot. We see the boy put the car in Forward, then Reverse and all the other maneuvers associated with learning to drive an automobile. So far, no cause for apoplexy, right? It’s just about then when we see panicked apprehension flit across the face of our young driver-to-be when it comes time to parallel park. And this is where I launch. I cannot seem to do anything but writhe as his mother encourages our nervous wheel man to just touch the screen in the console between them. He does and the computer system in the vehicle takes control. Relying on the rear-view camera, the car proceeds to nestle the two of them right up against the curb with the greatest of ease. The kid is beaming with victory. Cue the dreamy music as the advertising agency responsible for this travesty is in rapture as they imagine the nation rising up in one accord, “That’s cool. I have to have it”.
Me? In my mind, I put myself into the commercial. But I’m the one jumping up and down on the hood of the car with all my might, yelling at the kid through the windshield: “No you don’t. You learned nothing! Do it again!”
I’ll grant you ‘auto-park’ is a slick gimmick. I remember that it took me awhile (back then) to get the hang of exactly how to spin the wheel (and when) in order to achieve the same result, but I did it. I own it. Have ever since. I don’t need no stinking computer. And besides, I’ve been on the Planet long enough to know there always comes an unexpected day when we’re confronted with needing to parallel park and there won’t be one touch-screen in sight.
Or how about the look on the Young One’s face when you toss him the keys and he realizes there is a stick shift between the seats. “No automatic? You mean I have to shift? And what’s that third pedal to the left of the brake? It’s a what?” That’s right my budding road-warrior, it’s a manual transmission. You try to encourage him that driving a shift can be a lot of fun, but you’ve already lost him. He’s too busy scanning his phone for someone who can give him a ride. And so it goes as it has always gone. The easier and more convenient our devices and their technology make our lives, the more we forget how to do what we used to know. Ever asked an adult to do long division with a pencil? See, even you were panicked there for just a minute. Why? We’ve got calculators for that…we don’t need no stinking mathematics.
Thermostats learn our habits. We talk to our TV’s and they listen. It’s so much more convenient than picking up the remote. Coffee grinders now match our coffee-makers in their sophistication. We just picked up a new grinder and it has four levels, three different grind settings and two green LED lights that glow out at me at night. How did we ever get by with the Krups that had one button? But fear not oh urban warrior. If you don’t want to go through all the purist grief of grinding your own beans, K-cups are available which will grant all fourteen of your worthless guests their own flavor. Are you kidding me? Where is the one-size-fits-all percolator my Aunt Ruth used to bring out at Thanksgiving and who has kidnapped Mr. Coffee?
But let’s round out this tirade with another shot of hot steam out of my stack. Though I do not yet have independent verification from The Smithsonian, I find myself seriously wondering if many of my fellow Chicagoans have developed inner-ear problems affecting their balance. From what I have been observing, a great many of my fellow pedestrians are unable to walk upright unless they are first clutching the counterweight of their I-Phone;Pad;Android;general electronicnerve-center between both hands while their thumbs convulse.
And while we’re on the subject of weights, the ear pieces plugged deep into their lobes have clearly grown heavy enough to force my fellow walkers heads down to the point where their gaze is lost somewhere between the high definition screen in their hands and the tops of their feet. What is going on? Are we that detached? Are we that dependent on our electronic appendage? Are we so much more concerned with a change in Facebook status than we are looking both ways before we cross the street? Or how about if we even glance up a little? Is our music so precious (and up so loud) we can’t really make out the sound of the truck horns as the UPS truck slams to a stop in order to avoid hitting us as we mindlessly find our way across to the other corner. Whatever (cue: eye roll).
Thank you for indulging my own humble version of ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore’. Lest you think I’m proposing my own Occupy movement that takes us all off the grid of luxury and electronic convenience, I understand. Life is easier when all we have to do for our water is turn the faucet. Not everyone can say that…even now. I chuckle when I see a really old catalog page proclaiming the joys of the modern kitchen as the Lady of the House beams with pride as she points to the hand pump newly installed next to the sink that drains outside – all on its’ own! No longer having to fetch water every day makes the inside pump a luxury. But you already know how this ends. Having indoor plumbing isn’t a luxury for very long…oh sweet necessity, bye and bye. And that’s OK. It’s what we Humans do. When there is problem (like water), we figure out a way to solve it. We evolve.
It may seem like odd bedfellows to have ‘Evolution’ and ‘Technology’ in the same sentence, but they have one thing in common, Innovation. I will even propose to the assembly gathered here that innovation is THE spark flying from Adaptations’ anvil. It is simply ‘in us’ to create a better, easier life in an otherwise unforgiving world. This is nothing new. Snowstorms drove early Man into caves to find shelter. The advent of the axe allowed us to fell trees which in turn, allowed us to build our caves just about anywhere. And we have.
But as inevitable as it may all be, I sometimes wonder if we innovate at our own peril. I look at self-parking cars and wonder if our luxuries don’t actually serve to insulate us, isolating us from so many experiences we’d otherwise have. And no disrespect to Plato’s mom, but isn’t Experience one of the best teachers we have?
Life is hard. Sooner or later, we all face the inevitability of our own mortality. We run from growing old but we all hope to live long. How does that mesh? We all want the latest gadgets to save us time or take over mundane tasks we were once burdened with…I know I’d have a serious problem with anyone who tried to take my dishwasher away. I know how to wash dishes by hand, but it’s so much easier to stick the glasses in the top rack and be done with it.
So for all my agitated rambling, here’s the question. What do we do with the leisure time we gain from all our innovative devices? Have we adapted to the point where Life takes on deeper meaning because our music players now hold 1600 songs?
Methinks the mother of all original necessities hasn’t really changed that much. We all need to belong; to be loved; to be touched and to touch in return. No device Thomas Edison or his descendants at Intel have ever dreamed up has ever come even close to being manual with each other.
Strangers talk and become acquainted. Friends become lovers and nations learn to stand down from the brink of war. Technology hasn’t done what Love has been doing from the Dawn of Time. That isn’t a failure in Evolution. It’s the signature of what has always been the best way to combat Evil and Darkness.
Turn off your lights this week. Listen to the Heart beating beside you. Go ‘manual’ for a little bit with someone that matters to you. Give it a little bit of time for the quiet to soak in and then, by all means, go back to ‘automatic’. There is nothing wrong in making Life easier for yourself when you can. But imagine doing so, confident in the knowledge that some of your finest functions burn brightest when the power goes off. Conveying love is not automatic, but best done old school. Transmit it manually. Look a person you are worried about in the eye this week. Give the unsung hero in your office a pat on the back. Smile at the nameless convenience store clerk you see three times a week…chances are pretty good they have a name. Figure out a way to get your kid unplugged if only while you eat dinner. I don’t know what any of this will be for you, but you do. So what are you waiting for? I’m not going to do it for you because none of this is automatic.
I leave you with my best Truth. Love is our necessity. The Time we have with it? That my fellow Traveler is my definition of Luxury, bye and bye.
“Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning-author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.”
Green’s masterwork is available in bookstores and online everywhere. The movie (on Redbox and other outlets) found me forgetting to breathe. It was that good. I shushed others in the room while the credits ran…I didn’t want it to end, but then again, all good things must.
And the soundtrack! From start to finish, a gob-smacking collection of all that is best in each of us. For those of you who know how I’ve perfected the artform of frugality? I bought the soundtrack on Amazon this afternoon. It delivers on Friday. No further questions.
Copy-of-Plato-bust-by-Silanion: http://norwellconsulting.com/innovationblog/2013/02/13/necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention/; Bumper Sticker: http://www.cafepress.com/+drive-a-stick+stickers; Network Mad as Hell (Peter Finch): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_%28film%29; Muppets Hugging: https://muppetmindset.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/weekly-muppet-wednesdays-rosita/; The Fault in our Stars quote: http://www.amazon.com/The-Fault-Stars-John-Green/dp/014242417X; Little Ceasars Off the Grid: http://www.offgridworld.com/thats-it-were-going-off-the-grid-little-caesars-pizza-goes-off-the-grid-w-hilarious-new-commercial/
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