Has technology really made life more efficient?
Or have things gotten worse?
Today we have:
But we remember when people got things done without them.
When Domesticus was a kid back in the Pre-Digital Age,
• Digits were on your hands, for easy use as a math tool (and somewhat later, a math tool hidden under your desktop).
• wasn’t available, but American Sign Language and crumpled paper balls did the trick.
• Transportation was getting everywhere you needed to go in one pair of or loafers, usually with at least one hole in the bottom.
• Meals were consumed at a table with the family, after being cooked in an oven by a grownup; and
• worked!! Did the job with one quick touch, and almost no need for maintenance. True, they wasted some water. But what about the human energy we waste now, when they don’t get the job done the first time around? What about the disgust factor?
Then there’s hot water. Used to be, you turned on the tap and right away, the water that came out was hot enough to make (a beverage from the pre-espresso era.) Now you have to wait. It probably has something to do today’s 3000-square-foot homes requiring longer pipe extensions than our old 1050-square-foot apartment. Which somehow housed three people comfortably. (We stored a lot of things under our beds. It was quite efficient in its way.)
. Used to be, you bought stuff at the store and carried it home—on foot—in a brown . Later on, the bag went into a big metal trash can, along with apple cores, milk cartons, chicken bones, coffee cans, and once a year, a pair of Keds or loafers with rundown soles and a hole in the bottom. The trash men came and picked everything up. End of story.
In Seattle, where I live now, every household is provided with one large plastic trash can and two gigantic plastic bins: one for recyclables and one for yard waste. Over time, some of these plastic containers get holes in them, or their lids blow into the street and get smashed, or their lids get cracked by people who place heavy rocks on them in a vain and pathetic effort to keep out raccoons.
So the city kindly replaces the cans unasked and at no extra charge—until your monthly rates are inevitably raised.
The city also provides you with a 12 x 17-inch color brochure that can be posted on your refrigerator, as long as you don’t plan on putting up anything else there, and which illustrates what to put in Garbage vs. Recycling vs. Food + Compostables vs. Other Collection Services vs. Beyond the Curb.
The brochure is helpful, but it requires some deep study to get it all down. Once you do, it is a surefire way to impress out-of-town guests as they stand helplessly in front of your refrigerator, empty beer can in hand.
This city is serious about recycling. Trash collectors can and do leave your can on the curb if more than 10 percent of its contents are recyclable. And what’s recyclable? That depends, and even the people who work for Solid Waste get confused. (Read William Barrett’s entertaining blog post on the subject here.)
But Domesticus is actually OK with recycling. Just don’t ask us to compost, which involves keeping rotting tomatoes and swarming flies in our back yard. Recycling is good because it gets us to start thinking and caring about the environment in a warm and fuzzy way.
However, the more you think about it, the less warm and the more fuzzy it gets.
For instance: What is the environmental (as well as monetary) cost of having three types of trucks, run by three separate companies, come to your door on trash day?
How much water do you waste cleaning out a peanut butter jar for the recyclables bin? And what if you have cold hands and use hot water (Guilty!)
What happens to the old plastic trash cans when they are replaced with new ones? And do they really have to be made out of plastic?
You could allow this kind of thinking to go on and on and eventually trash the whole environmental movement. But that would be a mistake, even for those of us who’ve been around long enough to think that the old way, in its way, worked. Less recycling, with all its complications and contradictions, and also less stuff. A lot less stuff.
But we’re not going back to one-pair-of-shoes-a-year or oldie-but-goodie toilets. And even as disjointed as things are now, it’s better to care than not. You need to care to have any hope of ever improving things.
And so far, there’s no app for that.