What a time to be alive.
For those of us fortunate enough to be living in Western, developed democracies, we experience manmade miracles every minute of every day. In fact, so much of modern life is awe-inspiring that it’s easy to take it for granted.
So let’s reflect for a minute on just how much our lives are improved by things like these…
We all love our tech, as long as it’s working perfectly. But are we really grateful for it?
How do you react when your Internet connection slows down and the movie you’re streaming on Amazon Prime freezes? Or when your smartphone app gets stuck? Or when it takes an extra minute for an email to fully load because it’s carrying a huge video attachment?
Do you cut some slack to the makers of these mind-bogglingly ingenious products that have changed your life? Or do you shout, “@#$% Netflix! I was right in the middle of House of Cards!”?
Comedian Louis C.K. has a great bit about how spoiled we are now, pointing out that when our smartphone doesn’t respond to our commands the instant we punch them in, we say, “Ugh! It won’t… it’s not working!”
“GIVE IT A SECOND!” C.K. shouts. “It’s going to space! Can you give it a second to get back from space? Is the speed of light too slow for you?”
Good questions. Good advice. Let’s all just give our astonishing, affordable, beautifully designed tech gadgets a second.
In that same brilliant monologue, C.K. recounts the first time he had Internet access on a commercial flight. He couldn’t believe it. The connection was fast enough that he could watch YouTube videos.
But then after a few minutes, the system froze, and the flight attendants had to apologize to the passengers that the Internet was down. To which another passenger responded, “This is bull#%&!”
This anecdote struck a note with me because one of my copywriting clients is a major player in the inflight WiFi industry. Working with that company has put me in awe of what’s happening out there technologically.
My client’s inflight connectivity system sends an Internet (and even a live television) signal to the aircraft from what’s called a geosynchronous satellite. That means it’s orbiting us at 23,000 miles above the surface of the earth. So when you use your smartphone on an airplane equipped with this system to trade emails with a friend on the ground, your message travels tens of thousands of miles round trip — and your friend’s response somehow finds you on a plane moving 500 miles per hour at 35,000 feet.
How we can think of that as anything less than a manmade miracle?
We’ve all been taught to hate Microsoft and Bill Gates. They made so much money. Not fair! They bundled their browser with their operating system. Totally not fair!
And yet, hundreds of millions of us owe major improvements in our living standards and quality of life — and in many cases our careers — to productivity tools from Microsoft, Adobe and a zillion other software and hardware makers?
How many people are able to run small businesses or one-person consultancies — design firms, accounting practices, photography services, event planning businesses — because these innovations have made doing so affordable?
And how many millions of people are able to work remotely and spend more time with their families because Internet communications, ingenious productivity apps and the cloud make it possible?
As a corporate writer who works form home for several companies — none of which are in the state I live in — I count myself among these crowds. And I’m grateful.
I’m grateful every day to the makers of my laptop, desktop, and smartphone; for DropBox and Google Drive; for my ISP; for my bank, which now lets me take a picture of my checks with my phone and send it to them; for PayPal; and on and on.
Of course, none of these companies develop these products or perform these services just to make us happier. Which is why….
We should be grateful for market-based economies.
The market rewards us for pleasing our fellow human beings — which means when we get rich it’s usually (although not always) because we’ve made many other people better off than they were.
It’s thanks to the modern technology gold-rush, for example, that we’re able to watch tens of thousands of movies and TV shows — anytime, anywhere, using any Internet-enabled device — for under $20 a month. Fifteen years ago that notion would’ve sounded like science fiction.
There’s a terrific book called Economic Harmonies (free PDF here) by French economist Frederic Bastiat, where he explains just how amazing life could be in his time (the nineteenth century) for a man of modest means.
Every day, when he gets up, he dresses; and he has not himself made any of the numerous articles he puts on. Now, for all these articles of clothing, simple as they are, to be available to him, an enormous amount of labor, industry, transportation, and ingenious invention has been necessary. He leaves his house: he finds his street paved and lighted.
And on and on the man’s day goes like that. He finds whatever he needs, and many things he wants, waiting for him everywhere he goes — not because he’s wealthy (he’s far from it) but because his fellow men worked hard to bring those items to him.
The market makes us better off, and in almost all cases it rewards us with far more than what we put in.
And speaking of the market, let’s reflect for a second on how amazing the modern supermarket is — by some estimates averaging 50,000 to 100,000 items on its shelves at any given moment.
That modern marvel just occurred to me because I’ve got to pick up some things this afternoon — stamps, oranges, flavored water, shampoo for my wife, paper plates, plastic forks, dog food and some reams of copy paper. And I’ll be getting all of those items at one place: the local market, about a 5-minute walk from my house.
Damn, I’m grateful.