I was recently struck by the blinding insight (probably by wandering around some specious corner of the internet) that the downfall of civilization came about with the invention of the car, or as I like to refer to it, The Automobile.
I have often been in the way of complaining that I don’t really know how to meet my neighbors—other than waving across the driveway at them, trying to catch an eye and smile—and that it seems very strange to me that my beloved network of friends always means me getting in my car to drive to some far flung destination, like across town. The Ultimate Solution to all the problems created by the car had to be the internet—because seriously, I can’t always be going somewhere, which makes chatting online awfully convenient, but then it’s the internet, so there you are. Actions have consequences, as it were.
If I had been alive when the first people on my street came home with their newfangled Horseless Carriages, I would have been out on my capacious front porch literally shaking my elegantly carved walking stick and yelling about the apocalypse.
Matt thinks I’m too curmudgeonly and that I should admit that some technology is good and not completely ruinous to the human soul. So I thought I would make a short list of inventions and technologies that I am totes cool with. Think of this as Anne’s Guide To Home Technology. If you are standing in front of a vast array of Chinese earth destroying electronical or kitchen gadgets, trying to decide what to buy for yourself and your loved ones, here is all the philosophical and culinary guidance you need.
First, Good Technology:
This was a pretty clever invention. I am willing to accept the wheel. Being able to drag something along in a cart, or push a big basket through the store on wheels, is pretty nice. I guess if you even have a car with wheels that’s okay—we’ve gone too far to turn back now (get it). Wheels are great. Especially on rollerblades. Those kinds of wheels are fantastic.
This is the best invention of all time. To take fire and so manipulate it that it goes instantly on and off without smoke and fumes is fantastic. Stoves are a very clever invention.
Also a very very nice invention. I really do love my gloriously cold refrigerator.
This one is actually a miracle. This one takes plain ordinary life and turns it into a moment worthy of the gods. This one is really the foundation of civilization, I think.
The Electronic Kettle and the Teasmade
For those of you who have to boil water on your stove, I am so sorry for you. I need to start a fund to buy kettles for people who don’t even know.
When coupled with The Kettle and The Toaster, the modern person can enjoy a trifecta of human bliss even on this side of the grave. The book is so much more convenient than lugging around all those clay tablets in your wooden donkey cart. I have to admit that with books and hot drinks and toast we came quite a long way towards goodness and virtue—if only the car and the computer had not come along to ruin everything.
The Washing Machine
I hate to say it, but especially in colder climes, this contraption is very useful. I think it does alter one’s expectations for a reasonably lived life, almost to the point of being Bad for Humanity, but trying to wash and dry clothes in the icy cold would be so unpleasant. This is right on the line, though, because, like the car, it makes you think you can Do More, and Go Farther, and probably even Be Somebody, and so the person who uses the Washing Machine always teeters on the brink of personal despair and disappointment about how much work is always piling up in front of her.
This seems like a clever invention, and it was pretty nice for the first 75 years, but I think it’s been shown to be not only unpleasant but also occasionally dangerous, and doesn’t actually bring the world closer together, but makes it more fractious, if not crazed. With the Car and the Boat, we shouldn’t really need the Airplane.
This invention is weird, incomprehensible, and bad. In the first place it ruins food and is complicated to navigate with all of its different sounds and numbers. In the second place it takes up far too much space. And in the third place it causes you to think you will be saving time, when really you’re just turning the beautiful items in your refrigerator into rubber and spiritually isolating you—making you believe that it’s fine to just eat something horrid standing up in your kitchen alone with a side of gnawing ennui. Throw away your microwave and return to your stove where you have to think about the food which will extend your reach out towards any people who might be in your life—friends or family or something. If you don’t have either of those, you need to get some before you buy any more gadgets, which task is only helped by your stove and then ruined by your microwave.
This was a good invention until it was recently ruined by energy saving bureaucrats who probably all devour takeout reheated in their microwaves. If it worked efficiently, it wouldn’t be too bad, although it teeters right on the brink of so altering one’s expectations about life and the self as to be Bad. But now that it is ruined, it might as well go away. The person who eats food cooked over fire should then stop and wash the dishes with water and soap, bothering then to dry them and put them away, moving slowly and deliberately to consider life with its constraints and obligations. Flinging things into the dishwasher, as I do, and rushing on to something that must apparently be more important but probably isn’t, spins me (get it) into a cycle of ever greater frustration. No, the dishwasher is bad. We should admit this and return to a constrained and sane existence.
The Computer, Smartphone, Portal, Alexa, Amazon, The Internet, Etc.
I mean, I know you’re reading this on some kind of device, which just shows you that nothing is really All Bad, and that everything in life is a tangled jumble of vice and virtue. But what if I had had to write this post out by hand and deliver it into your mail box on my bicycle? That ponderous thought experiment proves that I’m right, because this whole bit would be better written, and I would be exhausted by my ride, and you would invite me in for a hot drink produced by your clever electric kettle, and then we would both wash all your dishes by hand. I would then cycle back home again and collapse into bed (also a pretty great invention) only to start again in the morning.
What I’m trying to say is, let’s make the world Edenic again. And now, if you’ll permit me, I am going to go revel in the wonder of modern plumbing whereby hot clean water flows directly out of an elegant tap into my smooth, beautiful, porcelain sink. What a marvel!