If I have a mantra – outside of, of course, “go big or go home” – it’s “better life through science.”
I am a firm and hearty believer that technology, function and design are benevolent forces, key to advancing our quality of life. I believe that advances in science will allow us to live longer lives in cleaner environments with more leisure, and I believe that these are all good things.
Now, I am not at all blind to the fact that we live in a consumer culture, where things are purchased, used for a brief period of time and disposed of, and that this has created an incredible burden on our planet. We’re sapping resources, transforming them into a state that will take millennia to biodegrade, and then burying them in the ground to leach into our groundwater and cause irreparable damage to our environment. But I am also convinced that science, too, will show us the way through this morass.
Also, while I admire and respect the consumer culture that brings us the technologies that change our lives, I do not participate in it. Most of my gadgets have been my wife’s hand-me-downs, which I’ve been given as she took on the latest and greatest new tech, giving these devices a few more years of use before permitting them to lose their charge forever in the bottom of a drawer.
Other devices, though purchased new, simply linger forever. My old Dell desktop saw almost 10 years of constant daily usage before finally being retired to the basement, and only then because my wife was starting grad school and needed the desk cleared off for her studies. I was raised not only to not discard something that still has use – by my grandparents, who were consummate hoarders – but neither to replace something that is still functioning. Though my ancient Dell could no longer play the latest games or run the latest software, it still surfed the Internet, printed documents and allowed me to write, which was really all I used it for anyway.
Still, though, there are those things that are game changers – that completely alter my habits and how I live my life. Some of these I resist because I realize the negative consequences that they might bring to bear. My BlackBerry was one of these. My wife encouraged me to get it so she could use the BlackBerry Messenger to text me (and she does – constantly), but I became extremely fond of the access it afforded me to news, social media, the ability to take and share pictures, etc. It was becoming dependent on the device that I feared, and indeed I did. When I accidently brought my BlackBerry into the Gulf of Mexico in the pocket of my swim trunks on a visit to Saint George Island, I was despondent the rest of the vacation.
And then there are the things that change my life more than I anticipated. My iRobot Roomba is one of these.
We bought it, in a way, for my daughter, who had not yet been born. We have hardwood (well, laminate – hey, they were cheaper, look the same and better life through science and all that) floors throughout our house, and three cats. Our floors were perpetually filthy, with grains of cat litter sticking to your feet and tufts of cat hair rolling across the floor like tumbleweeds. When our daughter arrived, we reasoned, the floor would be her entire world. Something like a vacuum-cleaning robot sounded like a steep but reasonable investment.
Now, I introduce guests to the Roomba before they meet my family. I get hard looks from my wife when I describe the robot as “the best thing that ever happened to me.” I call it “Buddy Roomba,” and I do not allow anyone to talk ill of him in my presence.
Other labor-saving devices have been worth their weight in circuits, too. My Whirlpool Gold Silent Partner III can sanitize baby bottles, soak and scour dishes and strips food off even the filthiest of plates. The Shark Vac-N-Steam works flawlessly on my hardwood floors with only electricity and water.
And some devices don’t even need electricity. With flood lights about 20-feet off the ground on our porch, a little $10 light bulb grabber on a long pole has saved me from the periodic nerve-wracking task of climbing up onto the railing of the porch to change bulbs.
Anything that helps me get done with what I have to do faster (Shark Vac-N-Steam) or enables me to do it more frequently to improve my quality of life (Roomba) is worth the investment.
Still, I visit Wired.com’s Gadget Lab blog, and I drool. I watch the videos online for the other iRobot devices, and I drool. They have a vacuum robot to clean your pool! I want one, and I don’t even have a pool! I’d dig a hole in my backyard and pave it and fill it with water, just to use one of these damned robots! They’re great! And little gets me as giddy as the need to purchase some new technology, as I at last have an excuse to read all the reviews and product details. I actively avoid Radio Shack and Best Buy because I know they’ll just depress the hell out of me.
Eric Rudolph and Ted Kaczynski were dolts. Technology, properly applied and genuinely appreciated, is a wonderful thing.