Saturday, September 3, 2011

Our Push Button Society.

The other day an interesting thing happened. We had a storm pass through from Hurricane Irene and the power went out.  This is a common occurrence in our town when a storm passes through and we are usually inconvenienced by darkness for perhaps an hour or more.

But not this time. This was a major storm and we, like so many others, lost power for several days.

Nothing that we use on a day to day basis worked anymore. I could not simply push a button and use my lights, my microwave, my stove, my air conditioner, my ipod or my computer. I couldn't use my blow dryer.  I didn't have hot water.  I could not open the garage door by pushing the little bar on the remote in my car. Woe is me, right?

Well, as I was begrudgingly lifting the garage door manually to take my daughter to school, it suddenly felt  familiar.  We never had a garage door opener growing up, we always had to get out of the car to open it. And I never felt it was a big deal. It was just part of our lives then. But now it seemed like an inconvenience for me to have to do it because I had to actually get out of the car and walk over and manually perform a function I normally could just push a button to achieve.

And that is just it. We have become a push button society. We like to push a button and make things work. We don't ever want to have to get up to change a channel, open a garage door, go to the library and thumb through books to do any research or write things by hand. We never want to actually wash dishes or take a towel to dry them. We have drive through's and computers and instant heat. In the summer we have cool air blowing through our homes automatically. Our clothes get dried easily. We can heat up a meal in minutes. Why, we even have robotic vacuum cleaners.

We may think that all these conveniences are just dandy and make our life so much easier than our ancestors who had to cut wood or shovel coal for heat, who hung laundry out to dry, sometimes after washing it by hand; who washed and dried dishes after each meal and who cooked things slowly, sometimes all day long for just one glorious meal.

We may laugh at the way they hand shoveled snow all day, or raked a lawn or swept debris with a broom. We snicker at the thought of how they chopped wood or canned foods, made homemade bread or wrote long letters to loved ones.  We don't have to do any of those things anymore. We don't even have to read a book made out of paper. We can download it instantly and read it on a screen. We can send email or text. We are a technologically advanced society.

But we are bored while we sit on the couch scrolling through the 200 channels we get on our large screen TV's all the while complaining that there is nothing to watch. If we want information, we google it instantly while sitting at our computers or smartphones no matter where we are and we complain that the information is taking too long to download..  If we want music, we put ear buds into our ears, push a button and settle in. No more manually placing records on a turnstile and having the sweet melody fill up a room.

And are we really happier for it? Does it really make our lives so much easier, so much better? Do we really have so much more time now?

I don't think so. And we certainly are not healthier for it. We are fatter and sicker than ever before.

We never used to have an obesity problem in the United States.  We moved more. We walked. We rode bikes.  TV was less of a distraction because we had fewer choices.

Now we sit more.  We drive everywhere. We join gyms to exercise all the while having someone else clean our homes and do our yard work.   

And don't even get me started on how isolated we have become looking at our little screens all day long.

So, while it really was an inconvenience to not have power for 4 days and a reminder to be thankful for all the things we do take for granted, like hot showers and lights, it also reminded me that all the conveniences we have come to rely upon are really not that essential to our well being.  Perhaps just the opposite. And that doing things ourselves, by using our own brawn and our own effort, is a very healthy, satisfying experience that we need to think about returning to.

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