To your average toddler I’m a dinosaur, but when you consider that dinosaurs roamed the world for 165 million years and we homo sapiens have only been here for around 300,000 so far, I’d say being a dinosaur is something of a compliment. It’s not even like it was human ingenuity or dominance that wiped out the dinosaurs, it was climate change caused by a meteorite. Ironically, climate change may lead to our own extinction, but our much larger brains allow us the luxury of fiddling while our various Romes slowly but surely burn around us. I imagine dinosaurs would have found it horribly difficult to fiddle.
In any case, I bring all this up because a memory startled me while I was eating breakfast this morning. I was eating all the normal dinosaur stuff – trees, my own young, Sinclair gas stations – when my stomp through the primordial forest led me to a treat: a soy yogurt. When I opened the plastic tub I noticed that the yogurt had a small layer of clear liquid on top. That reminded my reptilian brain of when yogurts first emerged in markets many years ago, and they all had that little bit of liquid that had to be stirred in. Flavored yogurts were simply tubs partially-filled with yogurt with a few spoons of fruit jam dropped in. Package instructions directed us consumers to stir and enjoy. At some point it was a big innovation when yogurts were sold “pre-stirred,” but now they’re all that way. Except, I suppose, for the brand I just bought. I guess it was not “pre-stirred” because the manufacturer leaves out either some additional ingredient or some additional step of processing. Whatever the case, I figured with less unnecessary ingredients and processing it was closer to being natural, and that made me appreciate it.
It also made me wonder how many other simple tasks have been removed from our lives and are now being done for us in factories. For example, why do we need a baker to slice our bread for us? Why do we need disposable paper versions of napkins, towels, handkerchiefs, plates, and cups and other products to save us the simple step of washing? Why do we need instant oatmeal, instant soup, instant anything to save us a few minutes cooking? By enjoying the luxuries of an easy, quick, disposable, consumerist lifestyle, many of us have forgotten how to do some of life’s simplest tasks for ourselves. As we face the challenges of the years to come, such as climate change, energy descent, and transitioning economies, either these products will be the dinosaurs or we will. Simplifying our lives – buying less and making more – will help us prepare for those challenges.