The Unanticipated Consequences of 1st World Advantages

Recently, there have been articles in the papers that Amazon is considering delivering our orders to us by drone. It’s a Jetson-like future where thousands of small, slightly ominous octocopters buzz past our windows depositing shipments hither and yon. Never mind my paranoia about what else the drones might be doing as they whizz past, invading our air space and sense of privacy even more than is already the case. Never mind the scenarios of Drones Gone Wild, losing access to their GPS, crashing into cars or people or the occasional crow. How about the drones that simply linger outside your bedroom window, watching, waiting, and collecting data that would make Edward Snowden blanch? At least you get that book and 3D laser-printed pizza you ordered in thirty minutes or less!


As someone who prizes efficiency and despises waiting in line, you might assume that I would gleefully embrace such developments—but I don’t. In fact, I fret about the diminution of our cultural ability to wait, to cultivate patience, to appreciate the sweet anticipation that accompanies the journey. Further, as “advances” like these delivery drones take root in our assumptions about how long something should take, I fear that we’ve gotten so far out ahead of the rest of the world that when systems break down or we travel to a place not so automated, we will react unreasonably to any “time delay.”


In fact, we may forget that instantaneous, ready-made results are not always to our advantage. How tasty might a meal ordered, prepared, and delivered in 5 minutes be in comparison to one that requires us to consider our options, select the best ingredients, and wait, salivating with anticipation and appreciation of the skill and the effort that goes into preparing this meal? In most cases, we value the latter a whole lot more than the former. Further, just because the vendor pledges that they have the best results at the best price in the best time, if we have no hard won knowledge having done it ourselves, as a basis for comparison, how in the world will we know if they’re blowing smoke? We won’t because we don’t understand the tradeoffs for getting there. Is faster and cheaper always better? So far, Americans have answered this question with a resounding, “Yes!”


Did you see that Disney animated film Wall-E, where everything is done for the humans who live in the spaceship? As a result, they’ve become fat, lethargic creatures who don’t think for themselves and exhibit a diminishing ability to be imaginative and resourceful. What I fear is that inventions like driverless cars, delivery drones, remote controlled thermostats, and things of this ilk—which may offer some redeeming features—remove more and more of the necessity to learn, to think creatively, and to be resourceful when things go wrong. Which they always do. And, even if they don’t, isn’t part of the fun of driving a stick shift car the fact that you get to control when you downshift? You can hear the gears working, you learn to understand the revving of the engine, you grow to appreciate the fine tuning of a large number of varied parts that must work smoothly together in order to get your wheels to turn. I always feel pleased when I manage to parallel park my car into a tight space—pride of a task that requires skill and finesse.


It’s sorta like those foolish people who take their cellphones with them when hiking in the wilds of the Los Padres National Forest, believing that the phones will provide them with “security” if something goes wrong. Only there’s no cell signal and the battery has died or the phone gets broken in their fall down the canyon, oh, and the temperature drops to below 40 degrees at night. What do they do then?


We here in the US, especially, have benefitted tremendously from the creativity, innovation, and resourcefulness that accompany much of a capitalist economy. No other country in the world has access to delivery drones for completely unnecessary consumer items, but what is the cultural price extracted from a life in which patience and anticipation is rendered unnecessary? I, for one, can afford to wait 3-5 days for a package in lieu of the menace of some “increased efficiency vehicle” hovering outside my window.


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