November 22, 2014

There's No Such Thing As Small Change

I went to a local old timey diner for breakfast this morning. The food was fine and cheap and the servers were classic diner-lady types.

The decor is straight out of the mid 80's, and even the bathrooms were from another time. They have those really annoying faucets that only stay on when you physically turn them - I've never quite figured out how I'm supposed to properly wash my hands with those.  And even better, they had those manual towel roller thingy's to dry your hands. These are the kind where you pull down your bit of clean towel, and as new towel is pulled out, the old towel is fed back into the unit, and I guess they eventually take the whole roll out and have it washed. Even though I always get a clean bit of the towel, these things creep me out because you can often see the soiled towel that someone's just used.  For some reason the material - particularly the soiled portions - reminds me of old man's underwear. I just hope there's not some terrible incident from my past I've repressed that causes me to think this. But why is it that these old fashioned restaurants still exist? Certainly there are modern places to go, yet there's still something appealing about the diners. Often they remind people of their childhoods or some other earlier time.

Taking a larger view, we appear to be hard wired to seek out basic pleasures from an earlier part of our evolution as a species. This explains why we all love sitting around a campfire - it's primitive and cozy and strikes a chord, and we often just sit and stare into it. Similarly, we all crave the basic elements when we are denied them. In the desert city of Dubai, a gigantic indoor ski park was built. You can stay the night at an ice hotel in Quebec. City dwellers will drive hundreds of kilometers from their homes while enduring traffic congestion just to sit in the middle of bug infested woods.

We've certainly become an entitled society too. If you want ice cubes in your drink you just grab some from your freezer. Not long ago, massive blocks of ice were actually transported in ships from colder climates to warmer ones, making it a very hot commodity. The point is that as a society, we take a hell of a lot of things for granted. The invisibility in everyday things is the sheer brilliance of them. So although it's easy for me to scoff at the old man's underwear towel dispenser thingy, for a time that too was a very advanced solution to drying your hands.

An actual photograph depicting the invention of the donut.
Another misconception people have is the so-called "Eureka!" moment. Conventional thinking suggests that a single inventor or scientist would suddenly have a singular moment of brilliance. But in reality, major inventions were actually a compilation of hundreds of minor improvements from many different people over time. Whoever was able to pull everything together at the right time was the one who reaped the rewards though. Thomas Edison and the light bulb is a perfect example of this.

So pause sometime and look around you wherever you are. Think about all the blood, sweat and tears that went into making life unbelievably comfortable for you. You'll be amazed at just exactly how much was involved to get us from there, to here.

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