Thursday, May 22, 2014
All the invisible wonders
To get to the store, I drove a marvel of modern engineering that uses a liquid fuel, pressure and sparks to create thousands of controlled explosions per minute that drive its motion. Despite the insinuated violence of this mode of travel, I had perfect faith that it could carry me smoothly and comfortably to and from my destination, which it did.
On the way there, I listened to music by an artist I've never met who lives halfway around the world from me. The song was one of hundreds of songs, all played back with super high fidelity and kept on a storage object that's just a bit larger than my thumbnail.
The supermarket where I bought my groceries is a space thousands of square feet in size, all well-lit and climate-controlled, with aisles and aisles of fresh meat, fish, eggs, cheese, produce, nonperishables, kitchen gadgets, grooming preparations, over-the-counter medications, alcohol, prepared foods and fresh-baked goods. The items inside come from various places around the globe, everywhere from Chehalis to China, and I could shop there with absolute confidence that the perishable food would be fresh and reasonably priced. From the time I got in line to the time I left with my purchased and neatly bagged groceries, perhaps three minutes elapsed -- and that time probably would have been shorter if I hadn't been exchanging pleasantries with the checker.
I took my groceries outside into the fresh air of a beautiful late spring afternoon. No one shot at me, threatened me with physical violence, attempted to steal my bags or my purse, or tried to harass or intimidate me. I happened to glance up into the sky and saw two commercial airplanes crossing each others' flight paths in a huge, sky-dragging X above me. Thanks to the work of pilots, air traffic controllers and mind-bogglingly complex technology, they were in no danger of hitting each other. Each plane, containing hundreds of people, was bound for a faraway destination which it would reach in a few hours' time; before the advent of commercial flight, it would have taken days, weeks, even months of travel time to reach those destinations.
Heading home, I switched on the radio. I heard the voice of a stranger telling me exactly where the worst traffic spots were in my area and how to avoid them, free of charge. Then I listened to a song that had been released simultaneously across the world a week ago.
At home, I began gathering perishable foodstuffs from a large white box that is designed to keep food fresh as long as possible. Captain Midnight turned a knob on a squat white box that instantly provided the heat needed to cook a chicken and broccoli stir-fry. We were completely sure that the food we'd purchased would be nutritious and safe to eat.
Now I'm typing this account of my afternoon and evening on a complex and subtle machine, as literally obedient and nearly as capable as a genie, one connected to similar machines across the entire world. The moment I press Publish, people from all over the planet can visit this page to read my words.
As I said, just everyday boring stuff. So mundane, so routine, so part of the fabric of daily life as to be virtually invisible. Right?
Frankly, I didn't see much that was interesting about my afternoon errands until I went out of the store and happened to look up at those airplanes. For some reason I suddenly thought of my great-grandmother. The little lady I remember so fondly from my childhood -- this remarkable woman, born in poverty in the Netherlands in 1892, who lived to be nearly 95 years old -- had seen everything from horse-and-buggy travel to men walking on the moon to the advent of the personal computer. And looking up at those planes passing through thin air above me, I had a flash of insight. It was as though I suddenly saw my world through her eyes, and recognized the presence of all these invisible wonders in my life, and how often I fail to notice them or to be grateful for them.
So, how was your day?