The Journey series
I follow an online magazine which has articles about old tools the author has collected, one of which is pictured here, to the left. For those unfamiliar with the tools he features, it’s often difficult to imagine any purpose such an item might have. The author describes the history of the tool’s development and production, and then relates some anecdotes about its use and its impact on people’s lives. When presented in those articles, the tools are transformed from a pile of scrap metal to something of value. But where does this value lie? It no longer lies in utility; no one using those tools could compete economically with the efficiency and effectiveness of modern industry. The value is not intrinsic to the tools; it lies in the tethers the story provides to people and means of our past. But why do we have such a fascination with the past? I believe there are three parts to the answer.
The first part is control and free will. The same ever-advancing technology that made these tools obsolete is making us obsolete. The role of people is becoming ever less critical as the society we have created evolves. Our machines and processes are taking more and more control. What we do, when we rise, where we live, and who we associate with are all determined by our work. We have become but simple drones for our economy. Economic statistics have become the primary measure of governmental effectiveness. We no longer work to live; we live to work. Money has moved from a means to an end.
The second is specialization. We, as a society, know more and more; but we, as individuals, know less and less. To reach the depths of knowledge, we must reduce the breadth. There is so much to know that, to become experts within our field, we must remain ignorant of much else. We specialize in industry also, outsourcing many sub-products and functions to companies often continents apart. Many people spend their days making products that are mere input for the next level of production. They may never know who actually uses what they produce, nor how.
The final and most important part, I believe, is because it’s not enough just to be, we must also belong. Even though we may work for huge multi-national conglomerates, we are divided into subsidiaries, associates, and departments. We may never meet our co-workers face-to-face. Today, though living closer together, we are farther apart. We go home, open the garage door with the remote, drive in and shut the door behind us; too tired to do anything but rest. Both parents work to ‘provide’. The children go to day care. Our priority has shifted from our families and friends to our jobs and our projects.
I don’t suggest abandoning the current system; it’s very efficient at what it does. I suggest that, though money is an easy metric, it shouldn’t be the primary measure of a company’s performance. Money should remain a means and we should develop metrics for truth, beauty, and goodness.
Peter T Elliott