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I was thinking the other day about all the time saving devices that have been invented since I was growing up. When you start to list them in your head you realize that there are more of them than you realize and while some of them are really big things that jump out at you, others are very small, but in the long term, significant nonetheless.
Top of the list is probably occupied by the computer, a time-saving device which has led to the development of hundreds of other time-saving devices. Computers gave birth to the Web, email, online shopping, rapid fire news dissemination and a myriad of other things designed to make us able to acquire information and news at the stroke of a key. When I was young and wanted to find out about something I had three choices; ask my father, who knew all sorts of stuff about all sorts of things, look it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica, which occupied the prominent position in our bookshelves, or go to the library. Asking my father was pretty time efficient, but the other two options required some dedication of time and effort. On the upside, I had a lot more faith as to the verisimilitude of information I garnered from my father, the Britannica, and the library. I love the ability to look things up on my computer but I usually feel that it is wise to wander around a bit in the electronic ether seeking various sources because I need to be sure that I'm not accepting the word of some idiot, zealot, or nut case with an ax to grind. There is no doubt that the Internet is a wonderful tool but it tends to lack a great deal in the manner of trustworthiness.
The microwave oven numbers among some of the biggest time-saving devices developed in my lifetime, and although a microwave is something we all feel we could not live without, we did for a long time and managed to still cook. In fact, it might be argued that microwave ovens have solidly contributed to things like poor nutrition, obesity, and generally really bad food. In fact, that point has been argued and by people who are not me and have degrees in things like nutrition, health, and other things or are famous chefs who hate microwaves on principal.
The electronic calculator was definitely a fabulous time-saving invention. Unless you are some kind of savant math genius, no one can play with numbers faster or more accurately than a calculator. Calculators are great. So what if no one can add, subtract, multiply, or do long division anymore? Math is one of those things that people are perfectly willing to let machines do for them so they don't have to.
I won't even go into the many time-saving features of cell phones, fax machines, photocopiers, and digital cameras. You all know what they are.
There are numerous little things that used to take a lot of time that don't anymore. When I was a kid my mother had one of those portable hair dryers that had a cap with a tube that looked like it should be on a vacuum cleaner that she used to dry her hair. She would wash her hair, put it up in rollers, and then sit in a chair with that shower cap thing on her head that puffed all out when the air went in. As I recall it was terribly noisy and there was no point in trying to talk with her because she never heard a word you said. We would sometimes stand in front of her miming whatever it was we wanted to say until she would pull the cap off one ear in irritation so we could talk. Thanks to the blow dryer, hot rollers, curling irons, and all the other paraphernalia of hair 'doing' that we have today, it takes a lot less time to make yourself hair-perfect. Even after blow dryers and hot rollers were invented when I was a teenager, I still used to straighten my bangs by combing them straight while they were wet and taping them down with scotch tape until they dried. Now I can just spend less than a minute with a hair straightener and get the same effect. Very time-saving and efficient.
There are quite a few cleaning and housekeeping time-savers now, all designed to make chores faster and easier for anyone who has to do them. Unfortunately, having used most of them, I feel qualified to report that a lot of them, while faster, leave plenty to be desired in the way of quality outcomes. Those automatic mop things that are supposed to clean your floors better and faster are useless. As far as I can tell, they barely clean anything and are only helpful if you happened to have mopped your floor already 3 hours earlier, in which case they are aces. Modern dishwashers are wonderful but they are designed to save effort – not time. I can wash, rinse, dry, and put dishes away faster than a dishwasher can clean them. Personally, I am a giant fan of dishwashers because I detest doing the dishes, but that's a personal thing.
No doubt about it, there are many, many devices out there being invented every day designed to save time and reduce effort, and I am a big fan of almost all of them. But I can't help but ask myself, do all these marvels of technology make out lives more productive? Do they reduce our stress and provide us with a better spiritual/psychological quality of life? What are we doing with all this saved time? Are we building better things, writing better books, creating better art, becoming better craftsmen? Are we using all this saved time to make ourselves smarter, better, more fulfilled? Or is all this saved time now being spent finding more ways to entertain ourselves? And how much of that saved time is being spent to invent more clever devices to save more time? It's a conundrum.
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