Jul 30 2007

Do we live in a disposable culture?

Jamie Barrows

Disposable Culture

The above cartoon really struck me. Probably because it is so real. Nearly everything I own is disposable. I don’t mean disposable in that you throw it away after a single use. There are plenty of items in my house and office that are single use items. People have been complaining about the amount of trash our modern society generates because of disposable items for a long time.

No, what I mean is that nothing I own was built to last beyond a few years. It used to be that things you bought would continue to work for your entire life. You could even pass them down to your children or grandchildren. Now, nothing lasts that long. I kind of already knew that. So it isn’t really a surprise, but I guess I never really thought about it and analyzed it. So why is everything disposable? Would it be better if things were the way they used to be?

There seem to be several reasons why everything is disposable. If it has to do with electronics, its simple. The technology changes so fast that designing anything to last more that a few years is a waste. No one is going to want the fancy stereo that is ten years old. Even if the stereo works as well as it did when it was purchased. And if the item is a computer it will not just be clunky, it will also be useless after a few years. The same goes for things like cell phones and TVs. No one wants them after a few years. So what is the point in building them to last that long.

But what about other machines we use? Things like coffee makers, microwaves, dishwashers, and pretty much any household appliance? Are the ones you have in your house really any better than the ones your parents had? No one really cares if they have last years microwave model, or if their vacuum cleaner is three years old. And yet, none of our household appliances last beyond a few years anymore either. I think that is largely a labor problem. It costs almost as much to fix something as it does to buy another one. So rather than fix it, we trash that microwave and buy a new model. The manufactures know we want the lowest price, and know we will put up with buying a new model every year or two. So they make the machine cheaply with inferior parts. And we buy them. The expensive four and five hundred dollar machines that will probably last longer are left on the shelf. The cheap under a hundred machines are snapped up. our logic being that if it breaks in a year, we can buy another one and still end up saving money.

But this doesn’t apply only to machines and electronics. It applies to everything from clothes to furniture. We buy cheaply made things with the intention of throwing them away when they wear out. And we expect them to wear out rapidly. Gone are the days when people would save for a year or two to buy a furniture set that would last them their entire lives. Now people buy cheap furniture and throw it out when it breaks or even sometimes when they move. Often it is more expensive to move the cheap furniture to your new home, than it is to just buy some more.

So I ask, is this a good thing? Would we be better off if everything wasn’t disposable? I really don’t know. On the one hand, nothing we have is actually worth anything. On the other, we can afford so much more.

I can afford to furnish my whole house without having to save for years. I can afford every appliance a modern kitchen would contain. Big screen TV, high powered stereo, a computer that runs all of the latest software, no problem. I can have it all now. No need to wait and save. That’s the benefit of the disposable culture.

The downside is that nothing I have is worth anything. I won’t be passing any of my furniture or dishes down to my children and grandchildren. because everything I have is junk. And all of it will break down or fall apart not long after I get it. everything I currently have in my house will be going to the dump after it breaks. And it will break.

So I guess I don’t really know what would be better. To have less stuff that is better quality, or to have more stuff that is poor quality. Let me know what you think.

Jul 23 2007

Ignorance in America today

Jamie Barrows

Church Study

I don’t consider myself all that knowledgeable. The sheer amount of things I don’t know is astounding. My education covers the basics, but there are a lot of things and areas of study I know nothing about. I have the standard college education that most people have nowadays. I don’t have a Masters degree or a Doctorate. Just a normal undergrad degree. I got good grades in college, but not straight A’s. All in all, I consider myself to be of about average intelligence and believe I have an average level of education.

Lately I’ve been in a Bible study with a group of fellow Christians. Most of the people in the group are my age or a little younger. For those who don’t know, I’m 28. Anyway, most of the people in the study group are college graduates who are in their chosen career. A few are still in school pursuing graduate degrees.
The Bible study is structured in a discussion group format. One thing that struck me right from the start, was that people in the group seemed to be very ignorant of current events, history, philosophy, science, and the Bible. Many of the people are new Christians. So I could understand the lack of knowledge about the Bible. What I didn’t understand, was the ignorance these people had of everything else!

I didn’t know most of them that well before the beginning of the Bible study. Some of them I met for the first time at the study. At first I thought maybe I was just in a group of rather stupid people. I know, that isn’t a very nice thing to think. But that was my first impression. There are plenty of stupid people in the world, and I just assumed that I had “lucked out” in getting stuck with a bunch of them. I was wrong.

After I got to know them a little better, I realized that my first impression wasn’t fair at all. These people were just as intelligent and smart as I was. In fact I think a few of them are probably smarter than me. The problem was that most of them had never learned basic facts and information that I took for granted. Basic facts about history, philosophy, science, and current events that anyone with a high school or college education should know.

I really don’t understand how they could ever have made it through college without knowing these things. I could understand not remembering details and dates. Remembering names and specifics of information you don’t use in your daily life is not something most of us can do. So it’s not surprising people would forget. But in this case, most of these people seem to have never heard of many of the concepts and facts that they should have learned in school.

The only conclusion I have come to is that they never learned things they should have. Why didn’t they? Has our education system failed them? I don’t know where things went wrong, but that kind of ignorance scares me. Smart intelligent people who don’t know their own history, current events, and basic philosophy are easily swayed and deluded by corrupt politicians, con artists, and cult leaders. And that is scary.

Jul 12 2007

The Internet and writing

Jamie Barrows

XKCD Bored with the Internet

Found the above comic on xkcd. It seemed so relevant that I just had to post it here.
How often have you waited to respond to an email or to post on a blog, because you didn’t have anything interesting happening in your life to post or email about?
Often, I’ll get a personal email from someone and I won’t answer it for a while. Not because I don’t want to answer it, or because I don’t have time, but rather because I can’t think of anything interesting to say. I don’t want to write boring or short messages. So I wait until something happens in my life that I can write about. Since a huge portion of my life is the Internet, that makes it kind of ironic. Doesn’t it?

Jul 9 2007

Dependencies in the modern world

Jamie Barrows

Internet Addiction

Last week I was on vacation. The place I went was up in the hills and too far out for DSL or Cable internet access. So I was stuck with very limited dial up as my only choice for internet access. I had forgotten how incredibly slow the internet is when you are stuck on dial up. It was so slow, that I really couldn’t use it for much beyond simple email. So in effect I had no Internet access for the whole week.

Until I didn’t have it, I really had no idea how dependent on Internet access my daily life had become. Being without Internet access was a real problem. Every time I wanted to do or know anything, I would want to look it up online. But I couldn’t. Directions, movie times, restaurants, schedules, orders, maps, and just general communications. I had to try to remember how I would have found the info without Internet access. Sometimes, I just decided it wasn’t worth knowing or finding out because it would be too much trouble to get whatever info I wanted.

I’m so used to having all of the info available to me online, that I don’t even realize how often I use the Internet. I use the it for all my banking, planning, scheduling, news, and communications. I also use it for general trivia and curiosity whenever I see or hear something I want to know more about. Without it, I felt lost and cut off. Sure I have a cell phone on which I could call anyone I wanted. And the place I was staying at had satellite TV. If I wanted news, I could pick up a newspaper or watch TV any time I wanted. But it wasn’t the same.

I couldn’t read a headline or hear a news blurb, and look up 30 different stories on the topic or event. I couldn’t instantly look up historical background on the city, company, person, nation, or item in the story. Even worse, I couldn’t get the story reported from several different political, social, and demographic points of view. All the news I got was limited and filtered through a few mainstream outlets.

If I wanted to go somewhere I had never been, I needed to ask someone for directions rather than simply looking it up. I’m so used to looking up directions online before going somewhere, that I don’t even own a map anymore and I almost never ask someone for directions. I usually just ask for an address.

I had to call places to find out times and schedules because the information wasn’t right there in front of me just a search away. Movie times, store opening times, calendar events. Even phone numbers for stores and businesses. I had to discover all over again how to find things in a phone book(a huge pain in the neck). All the info I needed was either unavailable or had to be discovered in ways I don’t normally use.

This whole problem kind of surprised me because I hadn’t really realized how dependent I was on the Internet for everything I do and learn now. To think that just 10 years ago, I was barely using it for email, and now I have trouble functioning without it. It makes me think I may be just a little too dependent on it. I guess I’m sort of addicted.

So how necessary is the internet to your daily life?