Copyright © 1999 Henrietta W. Hay
Simplifying Modern Life
February 5, 1999
Several years ago my friend the philosopher and her husband bought a new
car. They finally chose it after spending six months researching. They
visited every dealer in town, read all the reference books on new cars,
kicked tires, popped hoods, studied prices, compared colors. The car
they finally picked was the result of more research than went into the
development of penicillin - and it was a beautiful color. It was also a
lemon, but that fact is in no way related to their extensive research.
It can happen to anybody.
Two weeks ago my friend said that they were ready to trade in the lemon
and buy a new car. This time they spent one day hitting the dealers,
researched the Web a little, and this weekend she drove up to my house
and took me for a ride in their new car. It's a great car, and will
probably last them until they are old enough to buy a sports car. And
look at all the wear and tear they saved.
Life has gotten too complex. We've gotta simplify it! My generation
has known that for a long time. After all we lived through the
depression (the big one). But the baby boomers went from being flower
children to being yuppies who wanted it all, to being responsible
citizens who are finally realizing they have to simplify their lives.
What goes around comes around.
Authors are helping. Bookstores have shelves and shelves of books on
the simple life, how to do with less, how to be happy, how to be
content, chicken soup for every need.
And now technology is helping to simplify our lives. When my friends
bought their lemon, buying a car was a complicated job. But now, in a
few minutes on the Internet, you can find the ticket price of every
model of every new car. To simplify your life further you can find the
complete specifications and all the colors available on each model.
So now when you go into the automobile showroom you don't have to peer
surreptitiously at the sticker on each car to see whether you can even
afford to open its door. You already know the exact price of each
one. Of course the Internet doesn't help pay for the car you like, but
you can't have everything.
And now technology is simplifying it even more. Suppose you just can't
survive without a 1997 Supermars in passionate pink. The local dealer,
of course, doesn't have one, but you type your zip code into your
computer, and the little green men inside will run around and tell you
where in the United States one is available, and how much the owner
wants for it. For all I know they might find one in Bangladesh. Then
you're on your own.
And clothes! I am not a happy shopper, but now I can choose which
shopping method is easier. I can head for the store where I can
actually see and feel and, if necessary, try on the slacks I want. Or I
can dig out the several hundred catalogs I received around Christmastime
and see whether I can find a picture of what I want in the size I need.
Or - and this is new - I can go to the handy dandy Internet and call up
the catalog of a company I already know and order from there. Or -- to
make it even more painless -- I can simply describe what I want and let
the little green men inside the computer find the right pair, who sells
them and how much they cost.
Come to think of it, that is not simplifying my life at all. I have all
those decisions to make.
Several years ago I became cooking impaired. That simplified my life a
lot except when I get hungry. The Internet can't help me there.
There must be a lot of people like me, however, because the
"labor-saving products" in the grocery stores are infinite. Certainly
my food preparation has been simplified. Fortunately, so have my taste
I hope my friends enjoy their new car. If I ever decide I can have one
more new car I will follow their example, simplify the job and barge
into the car store and say, "I'll take that one."