Patten: Limits Of Progress

Jan 12, 2018

I was born at the end of World War II as our massive war machinery pivoted to supply domestic consumption with innovations that promised to make our lives easier and help us forget the hardships of the Depression and world wars. It was called “progress” and we all joined the effort.

We even installed little electronic billboards in our homes called television to constantly remind us of what we still needed to buy and convince us we could have it today and pay for it tomorrow. Thus was born the consumer society that still drives 70% of the American economy. But to afford these new conveniences everyone had to work harder and longer because more and more dollars were needed to make life easier and easier.

Now we’re seeing fractures in that shared economic ethic. The world is awash in cash, but economic despair is rampant. As technology replaces industry, working harder doesn’t improve our lives. And trust in our institutions is at an all-time low.

Our belief that tomorrow would be better than today was the shared expectation that held our society together for decades. When the American Dream of a brighter future begins to fade, we regress. When a company’s shareholders become more important than a company’s employees, the work force disintegrates. The end of job security means the end of employee loyalty and employers struggle to attract and retain the labor needed to drive growth. As the political system fails to articulate and promote our common interests, the culture shatters into tribal associations driven more by fear than hope, identified as much by what we are not than by what we are.

Our complete surrender to cyber reality further erodes the sense of community that is fundamental to civil society. Electronic communication pampers the self-absorbed and furthers the disintegration of the commonwealth.

If the consumer economy has made life easier, it has not made it more fulfilling. Working hard to make dollars to purchase convenience has removed us from the chores of living and the shared struggles of life. We are weaker without them.

So a robot is never going to split my wood. I enjoy it too much.