This whole ‘making life easier’ thing is counter intuitive, isn’t it? I mean, we keep being told, maybe we even keep telling ourselves, that more stuff—more technology, more equipment, more how to manuals—make things ‘better’…though ‘better’ is hardly ever defined. ‘Better’ in what way?
The only way I want my life to be ‘better’ is to have it filled to the brim, as full as I can, with deep experiences of the people and living things around me.
By ‘living things’, by the way, I also mean food. It was once a living thing. Or it should have been. If it wasn’t…no, let’s not think about that. It makes me queasy to even think about that.
So many things, so many experiences, are actually living ones. Deep ones. The kind you want to have make up your life. Who do you love? What do you love? What gives you deep satisfaction? Deep happiness?
Now, I have to say something that’s implied in all my own conversation, so I might as well just say it now, outright: If you’re going to have a joyful life, you’re going to have some suffering, too. There is just no way around that. Loved ones die. Loved experiences fall into the past, and sometimes even fall out of conscious memory. Moments are gone before you can grab them (and you shouldn’t try to grab them, because that, my dear friends, simply crushes what was good in the Moment in the first place). Everything changes. Nothing stays the same.
And yet. And yet. We seem to be a species that fears all that, like some kind of collective scaredy-cat standing at the edge of a pier thrust out into a snow melt filled lake. We don’t want to jump. Too cold. Too uncomfortable. Too bad. Don’t jump, miss out on exhilaration, and on finding a different perspective out there in the cold dunk.
So it is with life. Everything dies. Some things die to make us live—food being the most obvious example. And then we die. Something else comes after us. I do believe that. Just as after I eat a meal, and gratefully eat all those delicious sacrifices on the part of animals, vegetables, and minerals, I go out and live some more, so when I die, I will feed another phase of life, somewhere else, somehow.
I find that beautiful, actually. Terrifying, yes. But beautiful, too. And in my core, I know that the beauty and the terror are linked. I can’t have the one without the other. So I feel when I look at myself.
Which brings to my experience recently at Newark International Airport.
Wow. The airport? Perhaps you are thinking now, “How did we get to the airport?”
We got to the airport because when I was there, I saw what a lot of us hope is the future. And I didn’t like it. It didn’t make things simpler. It certainly didn’t make them pleasant. What it did make them was…inhuman. What it did was present a picture of what a singer I like—Kid Carpet—calls ‘Shiny Shiny New’.
Everything is working toward a kind of automated ‘easier for the consumer’ fiction. So now, at this airport, all of the ‘restaurants’ are bar-style seating, with each ‘consumer’ facing an IPad. Maybe you’ve seen these? You certainly have if you’ve been in a major airport recently, and probably by the time you read this, the things are everywhere.
The idea behind these things is that you can, supposedly, seamlessly order and then swipe your credit card to pay, with hardly any physical interaction with a human being, except the one who brings you your food.
Let’s ignore, for one moment, the objection that just about everyone does ignore when bubbling enthusiastically about any example of ‘modernity’—which is that these exciting new innovations very seldom work seamlessly. In fact, they break all the time. And then you’re sitting there faced, not with a wonderful portal to the future, but with a dead screen, while the server has to figure out how to adapt.
Let’s forget about that for a minute. Let’s just think for a moment about the alienating quality of eating in solitude after ordering from a machine, and taking the food from someone who you don’t exchange more than two words with.
Yeah, yeah, so I’m a Luddite. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all that stuff about ‘every time there’s an advance, someone warns etc.’ And I won’t even question that word ‘advance’…or at least, not much.
But seriously. Air travel has gotten so ghastly, and I don’t even mean because of the miniscule seats, the lack of food service on flights, and the plastic cups they serve their wine in. Although all that makes it no picnic, too.
I don’t even mean those horrible security lines, where a complete stranger is forced to feel you up and down if you forgot you had your car keys in your pocket when you went through the detector.
No, I mean something even simpler. I mean the slow but steady removal of all human-to-human interaction. (Except, at the moment, when that poor complete stranger is forced to etc.)
It’s bad enough that all those jobs are being lost to this insane ‘system’ of trying to get the customer to do a little more work to get what they want, instead of paying the worker a little more to do it for them. That’s bad enough—it was bad enough when the young woman who poured out my hot water and slung the tea bag into it looked at me sullenly when I tried to pay, and pointed at the glossy ‘self checkout’ kiosk where another hapless victim struggled to use her credit card to buy a lousy little bag of potato chips.
I said sympathetically, ‘Having a bad day, hon?’ but she just stared at me blankly. Of course she was having a bad day. Every day was a bad day when she was standing there, not serving out food, not actually doing something useful for her fellow beings, but just being a cog in a machine meant to get people in and get people out—after separating them from their cash.
That was bad enough. But to have to sit at a computer terminal and order a meal, and then EAT THE MEAL in the company of the computer terminal? With any human being carefully pushed out of sight?
Are you kidding me? This is supposed to be modernity?
This is not simple. This is not pleasant. This is not the way I want my future to be.
If you’re the same, and you want a different world, let me support you in that. I support you in saying sympathetically, ‘Having a bad day, hon?’ when the slaves to the machine shuffle sullenly your way. I support you in refusing to travel without achieving conversation with your fellows at every step of the way.
I support you in finding ways to feed yourself that don’t involve high tech machinery. Myself, I carried some leftover Chinese food from my dinner the night before, poured into those little white cartons the restaurants give you, with extra napkins on the side. I always carry collapsible chopsticks with me, just in case of such a bounty coming my way that can be used at a later time.
I ate my Chinese food on a bank of airport chairs underneath a bank of useless former pay phones. Afterwards, a nice man with a dog sat down, too, and we talked about how the dog was a good traveler, and how much she had enjoyed Rome. Upon which a traveling flight attendant joined us, and showed us pictures on her phone of her dog. Which of course was not something she could have done on the payphone, so you see I’m not cursing technology, only the inhuman misuse of it.
Inhuman is never simple. Never. It might seem like it, but it’s a con. The human is simple. And better.
So for this Jam Today entry, my recipe is: To Eat an Apple.
First pick your apple.
This should be a good organic one. You don’t even want to know what they put on the nonorganic ones.
Then rinse it in some good water.
Polish it dry with a clean cloth.
Sit somewhere where the juice can fall freely away from your chin.
And then…go on to enjoy the rest of the day.