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All of the Things That Worked Today.

I tried to think of a happy song for this post. I settled on this song by Creedence Clearwater Revival, one of my all-time favorite bands.



It was a good day today. I woke up a little before 6 AM. I know this because the digital alarm clock next to my bed was apparently working, indicating that my home still had electrical power. I also noticed that the house seemed to be at the normal wake-up temperature, indicating that my furnace and our neighborhood natural gas network were also functioning properly. I wanted it slightly warmer, however, so I performed my manly duty of bringing heat to the homestead. In other words, I pushed a button on the thermostat. Sure enough, it powered up quickly.

Speaking of natural gas, it was now time to perform my morning bathroom “ritual.” To my pleasure, water came out of the tap as usual, and it seemed as clean and clear as it ever is. After the toilet was filled with the former contents of my bladder, it flushed properly. The human refuse had now magically disappeared. (Please don’t tell me where it goes.) Now it was time for food gathering. I found the milk in the refrigerator, and it was cold, so the fridge was apparently working fine. After locating the traditional cereal and oatmeal, it was time to catch up on the news. (It was “ESPN news” of course.) The TV came on. Thank you, once again, electrical power company. And since the channels all seemed to be available, I knew that the satellites flying around in space were also functioning. It was now time for my version of work.

I hopped in the car to head off to college number one for the day. As it has loyally done for twelve years, the car started properly. (You’ve gotta love those Hondas!) As I drove to work, I noticed that the roads were still paved and generally smooth and all of the traffic lights were also working. Apparently, the electric grid was functioning all over the place. Because other drivers were competent enough to avoid crashing into me, I made it to work on time, and as I drove, I gained more information about the world because the NPR station in town was broadcasting successfully. God bless good old- fashioned radio.  In the large forum classroom where I have my 8 AM Modern American History course, the lights came on as usual. Now it was time to fire up other wonders of the modern age: the classroom computer and LCD projector. Within minutes my lesson plans were on the screen arranged in a beautiful little outline – if I do say so myself – and for the next hour and a half I simply pushed my little wireless remote to scroll through the “slides.” (No more chalk and annoying overhead projector transparencies for me.) “Power Point” is a beautiful thing. As an added bonus, most of the students seemed engaged for much of the class. Talking about prostitution, gambling, and alcohol, among other things, may have helped them stay awake.

Now, it was back in the car to head off to racquetball at LA Fitness. The car starts. The roads and traffic lights still function. The radio provides more information. It’s mostly bad news. Nobody mentions the fact that things are working properly in Southern California. I guess that normal is not, by its very nature, news. Because the air conditioning and lighting at the gym were functioning properly, I was able to get in some games – I started off playing badly but ended better – in relative comfort. When I finished, I was my normal sweaty mess. Now it was time for another joy of the modern age: the hot shower. Their water heaters, as usual, worked perfectly, and I could now fully enjoy the after workout high. Next it’s back in the car, and the drive home once again went as it should.

It was time for food gathering again, so I quickly performed the hard labor of making P, B, & J and slicing an orange, completing my feast by getting water and ice magically produced by the refrigerator. Finally, it’s back to my good friend the computer. Only this time, because I am not at work, I get to mess around online. Thankfully, the internet – a technological concept I can still not fully wrap my mind around – was functioning perfectly. Due to another magical device called a router, I could sit on my couch and get some brief “facebooking” and blogging done. Then, it was off to school number two. It’s the same routine all over again: the car starts; the radio comes on; the lights and the computer in the classroom work properly; the students stay mostly conscious. I was even able to pull in a couple of short videos about Pocahontas and Martin Luther (not in the same video, of course), both of which work perfectly. After that, it’s back to the computer, which works again, to kill a little time while traffic dies down. After the familiar trip home, it is time for one last joy of the modern age. Since Thursday is trash day, the cans need to be moved to the curb on Wednesday night. Then, a magical device called a trash truck can make all of the garbage disappear. (Once again, please do not tell me where it goes.)

If you have gotten this far, you may be wondering why I am sharing the mundane details of my average day. It is to make a simple point. The modern world, on so many levels, is a miraculous feat of modern engineering. My average day was made possible by complex networks involving energy, water, food, communication, and transportation. Because we are born into a world blessed by these remarkable achievements, we typically take them for granted. We only seem to notice them when they are not working. When the power goes out, it is akin to the sun not coming up. Our infrastructure, after all, is as much a part of our natural environment as the air, sky, clouds, and wind. And because of all of these things, many of us are not required to do an ounce of physical labor. If you look at my tough three-hour workday, the closest I came to actual physical labor was on the racquetball court. The food that I ate came from a store. I receive energy and heat by plugging things in and pushing a button on a thermostat. A car takes me where I need to go. Water magically comes out of a tap at the temperature of my choice. Trash and human refuse just seem to disappear. I basically talk for a living, and the state gives me money so that I can have access to these technological wonders.

In a world of tremendous problems, it is important to recognize all of the things that work remarkably well almost every day. Of course, there is a cost to these modern conveniences. Our systems for producing food and energy, distributing water, and disposing of waste can have devastating effects on the environment. They may become inadequate and unsustainable in the future. Some people in my country and many in the world do not have access to many of the benefits of modern infrastructure.  For today, however, I choose to think about the things that do work. There will be plenty of opportunities to depress myself on another day.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Paul,

    My day was different from yours. After setting the alarm clock incorrectly, I woke up late. Not because of anybody else's fault. My own. So I can't blame anybody.

    For my morning ablution, cigarette and a cup of coffee, my coffee pot unlike my alarm clock was set for the correct time so it was cold. Fortunately the microwave worked perfectly. After a minute I had a hot cup. Yeah for the infrastructure!

    Now, given one minute to get dressed, I do so. My personal organization is well developed so all I need is handy, which is fortunate because I have 17 different devices dispersed unhandily that need to be powered up, collected and brought together. So finding what I need takes me longer than getting dressed.

    ...

    After I discovered that I locked the keys in my car all day, I also discovered that I drained the battery by leaving my lights on and charging my i-pod. I called AAA which thankfully works. Go team I!

    ....

    My day ended pretty much as it began. Coffee and a cigarette. Thank you infrastructure.

    As I drain the cup I think sometimes it's nice when a bridge breaks down or the power's out, for I, hopefully, didn't cause that.

    Mike C.

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  2. Paul, you demonstrate how important it is to appreciate the little things. But they're really not little. When one important item doesn't function, it throws everything out of balance.

    I remember reading that in Iraq, electricity was rationed for certain periods of the day - this in a country where it gets pretty hot. Then seeing how disasters like Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti left the governments so ill-prepared, I realize how lucky I am.

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  3. We're totally dependent, although I guess we still have some control and responsibility, as Mike points out well. Personally, I go nuts when one little thing does not work properly. God help me if the internet is ever out for a little while.

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  4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOtEQB-9tvk

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