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FLIP A SWITCH. TURN A DIAL. PRESS "SEND"
May 13, 2004
 
Damn. I clicked on "send" instead of "review," and all my mail waiting to be sent went out.

It wasn't all really mail waiting to be sent. There were old eMos in there, and some other things I can't even remember. Sometimes I save things in that file if I have reason to fear they didn't make it into the ether the first time. Then I forget they are there.

So a few readers will receive an eMo that makes them stop and ask themselves, "Wait a minute. Haven't I seen this before?" The quick answer to that question will be "Yes." Then they'll receive another one.

Quickly I sent out an email imploring recipients not to write and let me know this happened, simply to draw a veil over the whole unfortunate event and get on with life. I know it happened.

I fear the download -- I'm not sure just why. Many of us do have an exaggerated response to email we don't want -- somehow we can't seem to just press "delete" and move on. We have to wring our hands. It is as if it were work to press "delete." But it isn't. All you do is press a key.

Our sense of work has inflated as work has gotten easier. I've got a ton of laundry to do, someone groans. When my grandmother was keeping house, this meant a day with a washtub on the stove, some serious time with a washboard, a bar of yellow soap, multiple trips to the clotheline, carrying a heavy basket. What it means today is that you put the clothes in the washer, select the wash cycle and push a button. City people have more cause for complaint -- they often have to travel to the laundromat. In India, in the early morning, the riverbanks are already bright with saris and sheets, shirts and dhurkas spread out to dry in the hot sun. They begin the washing, in the river, at dawn.

We had polenta last night for dinner. This used to mean 45 minutes stirring cornmeal and water over a low flame. It got stiff and heavy, and stirring it was hard work. People who also gathered wood for their cooking stoves and built the fire in them used to do it this way. Now, I just open a refrigerated tube of it and cut off what I need. Then I turn a dial on the stove, and fire appears.

Flip a switch and there is light. Turn a dial: heat. We have an old wooden ice box in which we store teacups; our refrigerator needs no block of ice, no ice pick, no emptying of trays of water. If you think it's not cold enough, you just turn the dial up a notch. You never defrost. I guess it defrosts itself.

In church, you no longer need to know how to project your voice. Somebody comes along and pins a microphone on you, and then you can just mumble away. When most of them were built, though, there were no microphones. Somehow, preachers made themselves heard. They preached longer, too. Today, if our microphones break, we think we just about can't have church.

Odd -- almost everything is much easier than it used to be, and yet we still feel overworked. Still can't get everything done. Feel more frazzled, maybe, than they did long ago, when most things were so much harder.

Maybe we should back up and have a look at the big picture. Everybody must eat and everybody must work. We have more easy tasks now; we used to have fewer difficult ones. Because of their ease, we expect ourselves to do more of them -- and we do complete more of them. But we shouldn't let our increased production capacity ruin our enjoyment of life. Most things don't have to be done quickly - most things can wait. Go ahead, press "delete." Flip a switch. Turn a dial. And leave it at that.
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