Negative Zen

September 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

So I’m on the job today.  A conference was presented about the next new thing and how we need to reevaluate our work and how we approach it.  Websites were distributed; links were followed.  As is usually the case, many of us walked out saying things like, did you get any of that?  Or, how is this any different?

I suppose the feeling of being overloaded at work is not new.  And it’s not like today’s workers aren’t used to change.  Ever since Henry Ford first flipped the switch on the assembly line,  people everywhere have been expected  to update skills and take on new mindsets constantly.   And people, in general, extol this trend.  But it reminds me of something.

Back in the fifties or sixties (roughly, I’m not even googling that date; I’m just going from memory), the suburbs erupted.  Remember that?  Strip malls; housing tracts; roads with three lanes on each side.  Wooded areas were mercilessly bulldozed; neighborhoods were born.  Some people called it “progress.”

Populations grew; cities condensed into the suburbs; rural areas waned.  And it became normal for people to live lives that depended on a single stream of income; income that more likely than not depended on a very small set of specialized skills.  All needs and wants could be satisfied by trading one’s time and specialized skill set for money.  Having money meant you had everything because it meant you could buy anything.  Some people called it “progress.”

Couple all the above with the explosive growth of technology and its invasive, pervasive hold on our lives, and you have even more  “progress.”  What I’ve always wondered, however, is why.  Why people think we have progressed just because we can talk to someone or look something up or send a message to someone whenever we want.  Why folks think today’s kids have progressed so much just because they can operate any new piece of electronics that comes down the pike.  It’s not like everyone who uses the devices has some special talent.  It’s not like pressing some buttons on a gadget that is engineered to be easy to use means you’re gifted.

Yet, some call it “progress.”  I’m still asking, why? Why is talking more and thinking less progress?  Why is paying someone else to perform every basic skill from laundering your clothes to making your dinner to caring for your children progress? Why is living a lifestyle that produces so much garbage and waste progress?  Why is revealing every nuance of your self on Facebook or twitter progress?

I’m just wondering.

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