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Automation Overload: How Long Before We Don't Have To Move At All?

Posted Jun 07 2009 11:12pm

By Lynn Haraldson-Bering

Jfa0618l Weekends are really noisy in my neighborhood. Not from loud parties, but lawn care.

It’s the same all across the country. People have the weekend off and so the sunny ones are often dedicated to mowing the lawn or cutting the grass, depending on what part of the country you’re from.  Some people love it and others dread it, but mowing the lawn, at least in town, is a necessary evil if you don’t want to face the ire of your neighborhood association or town council, or have skunks and other critters take up residence in your back yard.

Watching someone mow the lawn is about as exciting as watching paint dry, but if you observe how people choose to mow their lawns, it gets a little interesting, at least from a weight-maintenance perspective.

There are the extremes and then there’s the middle in individual lawn mowing preferences. On the he-man side, my neighbor across the Lawnmower_manual alley mows his postage-sized lawn with a tractor. On the tree-hugging side, my neighbor across the street mows his slightly larger postage-sized lawn with a manual lawn mower. Most people use a push power mower, including my next-door neighbor, who’s nearly as big as her mower.

Solar-powered-lawnmower Gaining in popularity on the tree-hugging side is the automatic mower. CNN has a video article called “ Sit on porch, watch lawnmower go.” I watched it with some sadness, wondering how far humans will go to avoid physical activity in the future.

Last week, I bought an ’07 Jeep Liberty on Friday because my ’95 Jeep Cherokee bit the dust. The old Cherokee was all manual everything except the transmission. I rolled down my windows with a handle and leaned over the back seat to unlock the back doors. Now I have automatic everything – windows, door locks, seat adjuster…even radio controls on the steering wheel. All I have to do is move my arms a little to make a turn, and I wonder how long before car manufacturers figure out how to relieve us of that simple movement!

We don’t have to vacuum anymore, thanks to robotic vacuums. Dishwashers have been around a long time, but most of the new ones don’t even require you to scrape food off the plate before loading. Shopping malls feature valet parking, and even if you’re not physically challenged, you can use a motorized cart at most grocery stores.

I have this image in my head of our bodies evolving into nothing more than heads with fingers.

No wonder exercise has become a chore for so many people. Since the industrial revolution, our work and even our play requires less and less physical exertion. I’m beginning to understand why it is so difficult to convince people that it is in their best interest to move around before a big day at work or after a day of thinking and sitting (and using the drive-through for food, prescriptions, banking and even purchasing liquor). Being physical used to be a necessity. Now it is a luxury.

Automation certainly has its place in our lives, and it has improved the lives of many people who would otherwise not be able to drive or shop or live independently. I admit I love the keyless entry on my new Jeep. It was getting increasingly difficult to unlock the old Cherokee because of my arthritic wrists, so much so that I usually left it unlocked and hoped nothing got stolen.

Although I’m not suggesting we replace our cars with horses, I do believe it would be in our best interest to open public dialogue to address just how far we want to take this no-physical-effort-required trend we are in. There is value in mowing the lawn and running the vacuum and walking from the parking lot into a store. Physical and mental value. Gardening can be relaxing despite the sweat. Scrubbing the tub can be very Zen.

There’s a time and a place for relaxing on the porch, but I’m not sure watching a machine mow the yard is it.


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