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Jul 10, 2007

Thoughts that come when immediate gratification has gone

From my journal during the time when we were first avoiding making any sort of trash:

In my imagination, people used to live like this: you had most of the bare necessities but then every so often a relative managed to get hold of, say, some coffee or some salt and pepper or a guava fruit. That day that it came would be special. These things were called "luxuries" or "delicacies." If guests came over you'd say, "Hey, you know, cousin John sent us some coffee beans. Shall we have some for a treat?"

Or you'd dazzle your guests by putting salt and pepper on the table. Didn't salt and pepper used to be a special thing? Today, is anything special? Is there anything so inaccessible that you get a buzz when you acquire it?

Think of cake. Cake used to be this special thing that you got from the bakery to have after dinner in small portions. It was, you know, dessert. It wasn't in every single deli and available 24 hours a day. It was special because it was, well, special.

In fact, a British word for dessert is "treat." "What's for treat, mum?" the kids might say. Treat. That implies that the cake or whatever it is what it says: a treat. Something to be thankful for. Something not to be had regularly. But now we have to have these things on every street corner. In fact, what's confounding me at the moment is trying to figure out how to have everything I want at a moment's notice without making any packaging trash. My mind is conditioned to believe that if I can't have it right now—RIGHT NOW!—then I'm deprived.

Or is being able to have something at a moment's notice real progress? Is it one of those great leaps forward—one of those leaps for mankind that so intrigued our granparents. You know, like, "And to think we used to think radio was a wonderful thing and now we have 500 stations of television." But that makes me wonder too. Five hundred stations of television?

It used to be that we would have occasional entertainment. You know, back when we were Greeks or Romans or whatever we were. We'd go to the amphitheater or something. It would be a social thing, a social gathering, a get together, a community activity. Now we have this 24 hour a day TV thing. Even in the elevators and in the airport lounges and in our airplane seats and in our cars. Everywhere. Everything is "on demand." Video on demand. Content on demand. It isn't even on request.

Is this progress or not? Can anything be progress if it means we play charades less often?

But then, I was standing on the roof of a building on First Avenue the other evening and the sun was setting and there were pink clouds and the top of the Empire State Building was drifting in and out of the mist and a plane was flying over Manhattan and I thought how lovely. We build the tall buildings because they are, after all, cool. There is something awe inspiring and creative about them.

And when you think of the Wright brothers on the dunes in the Carolinas trying to fly: why not? What human hasn't looked at birds and wished they could fly? How fun is it? And how amazing to go to the moon? Is that incredible or what? And isn't cool to live in a world where these things happen? There is something magical and God imbued about these things. The same as transmitting moving pictures through the air. How amazing too.

I suppose the thing is that when they are created and done for the first time they are magical but when we become addicted to it, when we have to have it in order to feel satisfied, that may not be so magical. Maybe it's a matter of balance. Can we take the flying to the moon but leave behind the driving everywhere?

On the other hand, do we require some sort of overheated economy full of consumerism to get to the point where we can have the technology to go to the moon? Does the space shuttle somehow spin off the technology of being able to provide a hamburger in two minutes and video camera where you don't have to leave home to "see" your children?

These are the musings of a man walking the streets not getting any immediate gratification because it's all wrapped in paper.


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Posted: Jul 10, 2007 2:26am

 

 
 
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