It’s popular today to complain about our complicated and interconnected world and to yearn for simpler days. I’ve certainly felt that way at times. But I think we sometimes forget that we can’t have the things we want unless the world is complicated and interconnected.
There’s a famous essay published in 1958 by Leonard Read called “I, Pencil,” which explains where a pencil comes from — and how many people are required to produce a simple pencil. I read something today that considers a more modern example. Waldo Jaquith wrote earlier this week about the impracticality of a cheeseburger until modern times.
If you want a cheeseburger today, you can probably go to a dozen places within shouting distance of your home or office and get one pretty cheaply. But if you’d lived before the days of modern transportation and refrigeration and all the other things that make a cheeseburger possible, you wouldn’t have found one. It wasn’t that it technically impossible. It was simply that it was so difficult that it would have required tremendous resources to duplicate what we get cheaply today.
I’m not going to retell what made Jaquith start thinking about it. His piece is short and worth reading. Take a look for yourself. And remember it the next time you start longing for a simper life. You can have a simple world if you want it, but there are going to be a lot of tradeoffs. You might gain some things, but you’d give up even more. It’s worth thinking about what modern technology has brought us.