Twenty-two years ago my wife and I were house shopping and I remember in one house an impressed realtor showing us a closet in which was a tall bank of electronic gizmos that reminded me of a mainframe. This house had been wired to do everything electronics could do back in 2000. A smart-house indeed! $20,000 worth of smart.
But I am now doing a mental inventory of how many electronic gizmos that I own that are now twenty-two years old and still functioning. Hrmmm. So far the list includes a 2001 Dodge 4×4. The thing still runs well enough but so does my eighty-three year old father.
While I am no techy, I am however, like everyone else, perfectly aware that since 2000 electronic gadgetry has improved considerably. I also know that when electronic gadgetry was invented long before 2000 that a new priestly class of techies had to be instituted who understood its mysteries and could explain it to the rest of us or, at least guide us in our observances.
My assumption is that everything I saw in that closet is today in a landfill and that many of the wires that were so painstakingly installed during the construction of the house have been pulled out in subsequent renovations, or more likely hang lifelessly gathering dust in the perpetual darkness between studs.
As I consider the trouble that maintaining and enjoying my smart phones (plural) have given me over the years, I wonder what troubles that $20,000 system gave the owner or owners of that house over the last twenty. What was the cost in time, dollars, and brain damage to keep it going?
What was the cost to upgrade and replace its components.
Was it all worth it?
To put this in a little perspective, had the owner invested that $20,000 and managed a modest 7% per annum increase it would today be worth $77,000.
Only the owner or owners can answer the question. I for one can answer the question that yes, my smart phones have been worth the trouble and money. Hard to imagine life now without one, double edge sword though they may be.
Likewise I love my riding lawn mower. I do not take the combustion engine or paved roads or rubber tires for granted. Likewise I very much appreciate how when you enter a room and flick up that little switch thingy on the wall that the whole room lights up as though it were high noon. I can in fact imagine the semi-darkness that our ancestors lived in for half of their lives. Likewise I can imagine life before modern medicine and nutrition. Or at least our vastly improve understanding of nutrition.
But all of these have come at a price, and for most of us we pay that price by what we earn in what we have longed called the ‘rat race.’ That frenetic pace of life that keeps us busy in order to enjoy a standard of living unimaginable to kings of old.
We can now cross the Atlantic Ocean in hours, instead of weeks, or not at all.
We use a chainsaw instead of the simple but near indestructible axe.
We ride elevators instead of ascend stairs or ladders.
We turn on the forklift, instead of harnessing the mule.
And the list could on and on and on. I would not want to have to go back to the so-called good ol’ days, but I only tolerate the complexity of these good-new-days and at times question the value of its many luxuries, or time and back saving tools, if in the having I must run forever in a rat race.
There is something to be said for keeping things simple.
This piece was originally published at Look Away on August 17, 2022.
Mark Atkins has six wee bairns who are all seventh-generation Henry County, Tennessee, and all from the same doe. It is the people of Henry County that he most wants to reach but writes to Southerners generally. He is without credentials but rather dares to speak by the same authority as the little boy who cried 'The king has no clothes!' His core belief and starting point is that like everything, we humans have a nature, it is not so hard to understand, and to pretend that it is other than it is, is to jump off a cliff. Which is what we Americans have in fact done.