Saturday, October 9, 2010

Progress...and the real meaning

Stood in crowded conditions, barely able to move, for hours each day.
These were the conditions that slaves in past centuries were shipped in to their new places of work.
These are also the conditions which millions of us tolerate today when we go to work.
The difference? Slaves had no choice. People today choose to tolerate much the same conditions every day that slaves fought to break away from two hundred years ago.

Transport to and around town was fifteen miles per hour by horsecarriage.
In many cities in the world, it takes about the same.
The difference? Horseback was the fastest way of getting around. Now we have buses and the technology for more efficient transport networks. But most people still prefer to go by car and sit in the traffic jam. So people choose to tolerate (while stressing about) travelling at the same speed society did a hundred years ago.

People work twelve-hour days, but are paid for only eight of them.
During the Industrial Revolution this was the norm, as workers rights were still in their infancy. In the 21st century much of industrialised society work exactly the hours, just doing different jobs.
The difference? Two hundred years ago workers had no rights. Now workers still work under the same conditions because they feel "obliged" by the work environment.

So what happened? Where is the "progress"?
Johnathon Swift got it right in "Gulliver´s Travels" when he said that all that changes in human society were simply advances in technology, not society. He used the example of warfare, but it could be applied to just about anything; the media (newsprint giving way to TV and the internet); working conditions; lifestyle.
Real progress should be about human life becoming easier - that´s what all the scientists of the past fantasised about: humans having no work. But the reality has become the opposite. Human society merely uses technology for its own ends.
Email and the internet brings more obligations to our lives (if no-one is ever out of touch with the office any more, where does quality free time come into the equation?).
Increased traffic slows down our lives precisely while we are expected to work and operate faster. The result: stress.
As cities get bigger as we are encouraged to move into them for work purposes, it makes travel more a part of life than it was for workers even before the Industrial Revolution: "commuting" is just another word for slave transportation.

So what is the answer?
Think about this: time and money are all relative concepts. Does it matter if we work an extra few hours per day, or a few less? Does "work" ever stop? Saying that "I need to get these things done" at work is a meaningless statement because there´s ALWAYS something that needs to be done: that´s the nature of work.
Better for society to think like this: keep to regulations about working hours (as in France). Because if we all stick to the same standards, nobody will be competing to do too much, or worry about trying to do more than someone else. If we limit the amount of commuting in cities (by trying to organise society better so that cities don´t get too big, but grow at a sustainable rate) then society will be better overall.
Health suffers from all the stresses caused by the "pressure" from modern living. The problem is that the human mind is expanding at a rate that out human metabolism has difficulty in keeping up with. Don´t forget that we´re only a few thousand years a from hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Our bodies need time to regenerate each day; psychologically, we need quality free time. We need trees. We need silence, at least once a week.

OK, that´s all. Thanks for your time.
Good day and good luck, people!

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