[Gotta love Johnny Cash]
I read an article LinkedIn the other day that talked about how cell phones are the new cigarette. The author compared the once-popular “got a light?” icebreaker to our tendency to pull out our phones when we have a spare moment or when we are in an environment that may be new or intimidating. It’s kind of interesting to look around and see everyone staring down at their phones, focusing their attention on the virtual instead of the actual.
A quick story: At the end of September 2012, after almost seven months of being unable to find a job and unable to pay phone bill, my phone got cut off. As tragic as it was at the time, I really feel like it was a blessing in disguise. I had had whichever iPhone was new at the time (I think a 4S), and I was very much accustomed to being on it. A lot. I would be on it at work, either playing mindless games or writing and I would do a lot of the same when I would get home at night. It was beginning to have a negative effect on my relationship with my wife and infant daughter. So, like I said, it got shut off and I wound up spending the next two years without a cell phone.
[Once I got a job, we could’ve afforded one, but we lived so close to where I was working and I was always either at home or at work, that it wasn’t Incredibly necessary. I have a phone now because I work farther away and we’re in a much bigger city, but I have a flip phone so it’s pretty much for calling and texting.]
I pay a lot more attention to the world around me and it’s an amazing feeling. My wife and I have always been adventurers but not being buried in my phone has opened the door for more spontaneous sidetracking. My mind is clearer and I feel like I’m more focused when I get going on a project. I also fell out of touch with a lot of the websites I would spend a bunch of time on, so that time was spent on my family or my work. Definitely a good feeling.
Mrs. Glass and I are really big fans of the TV show Parks and Recreation and particularly of Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, respectively. We recently watched Offerman’s American Ham comedy special on Netflix and it was pretty damn good. There’s a part in there where he talks about how foolish all of this disconnected connectivity (my words, not his) is and how it really takes the life out of situations, even those like shoving your way through busy New York streets, that really make up the human experience. We have to put down the screens and pay attention to what’s happening around us.
[We also recently started watching a lot of Grounded For Life on Netflix which is a really nice middle-of-the-road sitcom if you need something light to binge on. In one episode, the dad’s vexation towards cell phones, especially when they are being used in public places. They flashback to a time in a restaurant where the dad has a really over-the-top fake conversation to mock a guy at an adjacent table who is eating alone but talking loudly on the phone. Good stuff.]
This goes much deeper.
I don’t want to get all Terminator here, but our reliance on technology has some pretty menacing implications. Automation is king these days and it eliminates the need for human employees in a lot of industries. I saw something else recently that said it takes six weeks to make a Rolls Royce and a few hours to make a Toyota. It was meant to be inspirational because quality takes time and everything, but it kind of freaked me out.
Why should it only take a few hours to make a car? Where is the attention to detail or even just the human element in all of this? I don’t mean who’s manning the machines. I mean which person is getting their hands dirty building the car or growing the food that is going to maintain the well-being of the individual. Machines are supposed to be tools and tools are meant to be extensions of the person, but there are millions of machines out there replacing human in the workforce. You can train one of those people to maintain the machines, but the math doesn’t work on that.
Let’s say a ballpoint pen factory (whatever; I’m just using what’s around me) has ten workers who assemble the pen parts into the finished product. If they are each replaced by one machine, then there are now ten machines with maybe one or two of those original people to maintain them. In order to completely counterbalance the unemployment of the remaining eight or nine people, you would need forty or ninety new machines! To make pens! Who is going to use all of the pens that these machines are cranking out? And who is going to make the machines that make the pen-making machines?? It’s too much!
I’ll take a deep breath and we’ll continue.
My ultimate concern is that 5.5% of Americans (8.6 million people) are unemployed as of last month and these numbers haven’t changed much from previous months. If we could take a bilateral approach and create jobs AND reduce the number of jobs that are eliminated by technology or outsourcing or whatever and get everyone squared away, I think that inherent increase in production costs would most likely be diluted and would make for a higher quality product as well as less waste from inferior products.
So. We need to get away from our screens, look at the world around us, and demand more from it. There is hope out there. And it’s handcrafted, made not machine-made.
P.S. – If you’re looking for a good read, try Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano. It really delves into the notion of machines replacing humans and the resulting social and psychological implications.
P.P.S – Here’s a picture of my old school flip phone and the other rather high-quality/low-tech items I carry around everyday.