Friday, August 12, 2011

This morning a FB friend posted that she has an emergency - her coffee maker is broken. That got me thinking about coffee and coffee makers. I remember in the '70s there was so much negative press on caffeine being bad for your health, the price of coffee crept up while the economic times were scary, Corningware and Pyrex percolators were considered dangerous (because you could get burned when the handle fell off, I think) and people were drinking Taster's Choice (decaf). That's what I drank when I was in college, although it was the caffeinated version. I believed brewed coffee was a thing of the past, and I don't think I was alone in that belief.

Then, Mr. Coffee was invented. My brother got one, and we marveled at this modern invention. Everyone ran out and purchased one. Taster's Choice went by the wayside, as all returned to brewed coffee- not perked but dripped. Over the years, people fell so much (back) in love with coffee that Dunkin' Donuts (which as I recall was on life support) was resurrected and Starbucks was born. Five bucks a cup? A bargain! Or at least no biggie, a necessity.

This all got me thinking about technology generally, especially given my recent negotiations with Verizon and brand new Blackberry Bold. Another invention I thought was dying was the telephone. It had been embraced in the early 20th Century, but by the '80s we had hooked up answering machines to them so that we could screen calls and not have to answer the d-mn things. Then cell phones came out and were embraced as quickly as the original invention had been - even by me (but only after texting became routine and smart phones entered the market. I still hate the telephone, and I really don't use my cell for talking or texting, it is for email and Internet).

Who would have thought, back when the phone company did that annoying break up of the monopoly, and speaking on it became even more of a chore because of talk overs...that this would lead to the cell, and people would be on the phone all the time. Amazing (and even more annoying). But of course a device that increased communication would be embraced! Look at what the one-way of the television did to society (mostly bad, IMO); naturally two-way would have an impact. 

Some did "see" this future (the quotes are because such statements always remind me of Carlos Castaneda and his "vision"). For example, a book I read years ago, In The Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power (Zuboff, 1988) was very astute. Like all such books (the even older The Greening of America, etc.) it is charmingly dated today -- but it also still contains a lot of truth and insight in its analysis. I'm intrigued by the author's idea that manual labor has no value because we reject things that are physical in nature.* That does seem true, what with our deodorant loving society - and it is possibly even more true today than it was in '88 (demonstrated by the media-promoted hair removal obsession).

On the other hand, physical labor does have some status in certain sectors of society -- for instance, to country folks. Not, of course, if we're talking about coal mining, but in some places, the idea of the independent contractor or small business owner has higher status than being a "wage slave" for a big corporation. (Zuboff's writing hints of Marxism and reminds me of those wonderfully descriptive terms.) Even professionals, for example civil engineers, may prize field work that gives them some contact with the outdoors over being trapped inside behind a desk.  

Now, I can't imagine re-joining the 9-5 world (I mean, I would if I had to, I am resilient - but I certainly don't want to, at least not at present moment). But even so, I say about myself that I have always been more about the mind than the body - one reason why I struggle so with formal exercise (the other is the gym teacher from h-ll). I'm happiest with my nose in a book or with pen and paper (fast forward to Kindle and keyboard). That makes me sound like a white-pants wearing, sedentary, obese, couch-potato TV addict, which isn't close to being true, but I think even among active folks, the trend toward the smart machines ruling zips along. We hike mountains, whip out the cell, snap a picture and post it to facebook. Or cry out in despair in our status update when our espresso machine refuses to dispense the morning cappuccino. It's all very ironic, this love / hate relationship with technology and modernism. But one can still be an early adopter and ask questions -- let's call it being a cautious proponent.

*Added: When we discuss educational technology and the impact of computer techology on us at the end of my foundations class, something I throw out there is whether we are like workers in the industrial revolution, harnessed to our machines.

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