One Way Change

Hello again. I’m going to make an effort to post more often, because changes keep accelerating and occasional observations just won’t cut it any more.

I have a confession to make. I have a disease. I don’t expect to have it named after me, so I will propose a name: expectationitis. It’s not viral, not bacterial, not even (I think) neurological.

It’s technological. I have it because of technology, and I am willing to bet a lot of you out there are developing it too. Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. I cannot imagine an existence in which we all, like the Na’vi of Avatar’s Pandora, will live in harmony with Nature and go hunting with arrows etc. No. We are homo technologicus – technological mankind.  Forget about h. sapiens — thinking man. Thinking was only the first step in a process that has begun to spin our evolution as a species in unexpected directions.

Oh, yes, I did love the move Avatar. I won’t say a word against it. Like many of you, the idea of living in nature, eschewing the products of technology that cannot be grown but must be manufactured by complex processes, is appealing on many emotional levels. If you don’t have electricity, you never have blackouts. No cars equals no traffic jams. Yes, the lure of simpler times will always be somewhere in our subconscious.

But we cannot do it. Our history as a species contains a number of one-way changes — changes that once chosen, cannot be un-chosen.

For example, the change from hunter-gatherers to farmers. Animals hunt prey. Bees gather pollen. People farm. We used to hunt animals and gather fruits and vegetables for food. Then some genius discovered that if you plant seeds and care for the growing plants, it is pretty easy to gather them when they are ripe. Likewise, we realized that by collecting animals that were still alive and keeping them that way, we could get them to make more of themselves and collect a renewable percentage of them instead of taking our chances hunting. Gathering was replaced by farming and hunting was replaced by herding.

And we cannot go back to being hunter-gatherers. Millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of humans would starve to death. We are now irrevocably dependent upon farms and herds to supply enough food (for that percentage of the Earth’s population we can effectively deliver it to). Think about it. Some of you might be farmers, growing your own food (and mine too, and thank you for that). But most of you are not. For most humans these days, the activity of gathering means going to a store where food is sold and handing over a portion of your wages for it. And of course we love to complain about the cost of food and how it always seems to rise. But if each of us had to hunt our own food, gather our own fruit, as we used to in the “good old days”, we would not have much time to do anything else. Although we rarely remember it, the fact that the many are fed by the work of a few frees that many to do other things, like build buildings, care for the sick, teach the young, and, of course, to have the time to do research, to discover new ways of doing things. Thank you, farmers, for without you and what you do, I would have little time to spend doing non-survival-related things like writing this blog. Instead, I would be busy trying to manage to survive from day to day.

The shift from hunter-gatherer to farmer-herder was a one-way change. We cannot go back, ever. The cost would be too high, in lives and in the quality of life.

And once many of us were freed from hunting and gathering, the rate of change increased. With more free time, we developed mathematics, geometry, metallurgy, chemistry. Animals do not develop these things, because they have to keep doing what they have always done in order to survive. But we did. Which came first, the tool or the brain able to use it? Neither. First came the free time to experiment and discover the possibility of tools.

As many have remarked, humans are amazingly weak in many ways compared to animals. No armor. No claws. No fangs. No wings. No fins. Eyes less sharp than the eagle’s, and hearing less acute than dogs and cats. But we are the dominant species on this planet, because we made up for what we have lost with our technology. Knives replaced claws. Clothes replaced fur. Don’t underestimate the importance of clothes. When I was younger I thought the nudity taboo was archaic and we could do without clothes. I have reconsidered this position, since living in lattitudes that experience winter. I still believe that we should be as unembarassed without clothes as we are without a hammer. Clothes are tools.

Our history, when examined, seems to have numerous examples of one-way change. Once upon a time all we had was walking if we wanted to travel. This limited travel. They say that not so long ago, most people lived their entire lives within a few miles of where they were born. But some of us used out free time to work on better means of motion. Oxcarts. Horses. Then finally, automobiles. How many of you can walk to work, walk to school, or walk to the doctor? For a lot of us, cars are not a luxury. They are a necessity. Cars, in turn, helped give rise to modern cities, in which the majority of those who work in the city do not live there. Cars made possible the commute to work from far outside the city. Could New York as we know it exist without cars? Not without something to replace them. Roads are the arteries that feed the tissue of cities, but there is no heart to pump us in and out. For the time being, we need cars. Try to imagine cities as they are without cars to shlep us in and out of them. We cannot go back to horses, or oxcarts, or walking. It is too far to go.

Communication has experienced a one-way change as well. I grew up watching the transition from rotary dial phones to touch-tone phones. And I thought it was great. It rarely occured to me that a hundred years before I was born there were no phones at all. What a transition that was! Human couriers, printed newspapers, and word-of-mouth gave way to electrical messaging with telegrams and then telephones. Seemingly overnight, telephones changed from curiosities to business essentials. We could never coordinate modern business without them. And we can never go back to a time without them (until, of course, something even better replaces them). Our huge population is dependent upon farming to produce enough food, trucks to get it from farms to stores, cars to get it from stores to homes. And phones to coordinate deliveries.

When my father was a boy, a man riding a horse-drawn cart delivered blocks of ice that people used to keep their food from spoiling. There were no refridgerators. For the rest of his life he referred to our fridge as the “icebox”….because when he was young, that’s what it was: a box with a block of ice in it that kept the food cold as it melted. And that ice had to be delivered over and over, or food would spoil. Try to imagine your life without refridgerators. Yes, I have been to “ice-cream socials” where ice cream was produced in hand-cranked devices using salted ice to lower the temperature of the cream enough to make it into ice cream. Without the invention of the refridgerator, that woud be the only way you would ever taste ice cream. And without the refridgerator, imagine how different the supermarkets we depend on would be! Sure, some kinds of food don’t spoil at room temperature. But do you want to live on oatmeal?

Back to my disease: expectationitis. I took a class in medical terminology once. When they put “itis” on the end of a word is means “inflammation”, i.e., a condition in which some part of the body is reddened by extra blood sent there to deal with an infection or something. Bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchi in the lungs. Appendicitis is an enflamed appendix. Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinuses. And so on.

I call my disease expectationitis because my expectations have become enflamed. It is caused by technology. And it is probably irreversible. My microwave oven has changed my food preparation expectations. I expect food to be cooked in a minute or two (or 3, for popcorn). My air conditioning has led me to expect that I will not sweat in the summertime unless I am trying to. I do not expect to freeze to death, thanks to my central heating. And this trend is continuing and accelerating. I finally noticed it when I began to scream at my computer when a web page would not load in less than 15 seconds. Has my patience withered away, under the onslaught of technology that delivers everything faster, cheaper, easier? I now experience real stress with a page loads slowly. It is as hard for me to watch a slow web page load as it would be to watch a flower open in its natural snail’s pace. I often end up closing my eyes for slow web pages, because it just drives me crazy to watch something that is not changing fast enough to entertain me. As dull as watching paint dry.

Now that I am aware of my affliction, I will try to find ways to cope. But there is no cure in sight. Who wants to go back to only printed news? Who wants to spend hours cooking a single meal? Who wants to spend hours making their own clothes, hunting down tonight’s dinner, walking to work? We cannot go back. We are embarked on a one-way journey into the future. This road only goes forward.

Will fiber-optic internet, faster computers, cure this problem?  No. It is like a drug that makes you always want more.  The faster it gets, the less patient we become, and the faster we need it to be in order to not go crazy. Instant gratification is not just a buzzword in the Information Age — it is an ever-growing demand. Expectation-itis. Gimme my microwaved pizza and my refridgerated pop-top soda so I can eat while I surf the Net for news, while I play an online MMORPG in another window on my computer, whose heart beats a billion times as fast as my own, pumping ones and zeroes to my monitor so I can see the explosions, and to my headset so I can hear calls for help from my team mates and the roars of attacking monsters. Show me my email NOW, before my bladder explodes. Hurry, get my bid in to eBay, my order in to Amazon.

Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. I would not dream of living without it. But as we drive faster and faster down the information highway into the technological cornocopia of human imagination, maybe we need rest stops to pull over and take a minute to smell the flowers. As life gets faster, maybe for our own sanity we need to preserve our ability to experience slow things. There is more to life than quickies.  –MRK

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10 Responses to “One Way Change”

  1. Su Betancourt wrote: “Hey! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.”

    https://www.riftgame.com/en/products/trial-upgrade.php?affiliateId=undena10000&utm_source=underdog_media_na&utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=buy_now_09_2011

    Yes, Su. I am on twitter as @gamesavant. You can follow me and tweet easily from my main website front page: http://matthewrkennedy.com there is a Tweet button on my website AND a Follow button. By the way, a nice Rift banner came up when I went to your link, but the next time it was different. But I still had the window up, so I have posted the URL complete with your affiliate link. As you know, I play Rift (it is where I made the portrait pic I use a lot here) –MRK

  2. Hey! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

  3. Ji Hayes says:

    Hi there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

  4. Great post. I just discovered your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.

  5. Wonderful journey and experience.

  6. admin says:

    Thank you. I know my litle blog will never make money. I know it could be better, with pretty graphics and riveting videos. But like the cliche says, if even one person other than myself gets something out of it, I am happy to have spent the time. I know about long nights, and writers have helped them not be boring for me. I am privileged when I can pass that on and feed another mind as I have been fed when I was bored and hungry for something to read. I will keep writing, and thank you for reading some of my output and taking the time to let me know it added something to your life.

  7. I have been looking around cool.matthewrkennedy.com and really am impressed by the awesome content here. I work the nightshift at my job and it really gets boring. I have been coming right here for the previous couple nights and reading. I simply needed to let you know that I’ve been enjoying what I’ve seen and I look forward to reading more.

  8. admin says:

    I wirte my own posts, but I create them with a program called WordPress. It’s free, but you need a server to run it on. My copy runs on a Linux box that is part of my account with Softcomca.com.

    http://wordpress.com/

  9. Did you create your own blog or did a program do it? Could you please respond? 43

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