Monday, July 5, 2010

More than a Declaration

Yesterday in And The Pursuit of Happiness, I talked about how life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness all come down to happiness and I mentioned that having rights guaranteeing the pursuit of happiness does not guarantee that you'll be happy. You can lead a horse to water...

Today I'd like to talk about independence; the rights of independence are no guarantee that you'll be independent. Although most of us live in free societies, most of us are far from being independent. We depend upon others for everything from food to transportation to entertainment to fitness to home furnishings. We live under the self-imposed tyranny of 7-Eleven, Dunkin Donuts/Starbucks, WalMart, Bally's Fitness, and the like.

Further, our dependence upon others seems to be on the rise and increasing from generation to generation. How about celebrating America's Independence Day by becoming a bit more independent yourself?

Spock's Brain
There was an episode of the original Star Trek television showed called Spock's Brain.
In this episode, a woman mysteriously appears on the bridge of the Enterprise, renders everyone unconscious and departs with the brain of Mr. Spock leaving his brainless body to be animated by an external neural simulator.

Later we find that the woman has been sent from a planet that is operated by a master controller, a massive bionic computer that takes care of everything from regulating temperature to maintaining shelter to generating and preparing food to recycling the leftovers. No one on the planet knows how to do anything, nor do they know how to maintain the controller.

The controller's brain is dying and needs to be replaced. Turns out that Spock's brain is the perfect match. Fortunately for the planet's inhabitants, although no one knows how to repair the controller, there's this little magical salon hairdryer looking machine that renders someone temporarily capable of locating a replacement brain, piloting a spaceship to it, extracting the it from it's current owner without killing him, returning to the planet and installing it into the controller.

Anyway, the crew of the Enterprise embark on the task of finding Spock's brain and restoring it to its rightful owner.
In many ways, we're on the path to becoming a planet being run by Spock's brain. As we enjoy the benefits and conveniences afforded by the electronic and human systems that take care of each and every need and desire, we forfeit independence.

No One Is Immune
This phenomenon is not limited to the "non-technical" among us. For example, just a few years back AT&T ran into a bit of a problem with their 4ESS (Number 4 Electronic Switching System), the system responsible for all the long distance calls in the US. It turns out that pretty much everyone who knew how to write software for the original system had retired leaving no one who actually knew how to make changes to it or repair it.

In general, computer science has been so diluted by the proliferation of systems and languages that most people graduating with degrees in computer science and computer technology don't actually know how computers work. I'm always amazed when interviewing job candidates how they'll know this language or that language, but they've never actually built a computer, designed a language, developed an operating system, or written a compiler.

OK, don't worry about what all those things are. Let it suffice to say that they don't actually know that much about computer science. They're dependent upon the systems and documentation of others to do anything. They don't have the raw knowledge required to figure out what they don't know.

Dependency is Reversible
Of course, just like cardiovascular disease, loss of independence is reversible. And like cardiovascular disease, you can begin the reversal today. How? Simply by beginning to learn how to do some of the things for which you've come to depend upon others. Better yet, you can do it with your kids and make a game of it. It's gonna be great! Trust me.

Here's a way to start. List five tasks for which your children depend upon you. The dishes piled high in the sink waiting for "someone" to clean them... Making breakfast, lunch or dinner... Taking the garbage to the curb... Replacing the empty toilet paper roll...

The tasks might be tasks for which you also depend on others. Unclogging the upstairs bathtub that fills to your calves whenever you take a shower... Changing the oil in your car... Fixing the hole in the drywall that's hidden behind the picture of aunt Milly... Making a triple no-foam latte...

Once you've created your list, sit down with your kids and pick one that you're going to learn to do together. Make a game of it. Who's gonna be the best dish washer ever? What makes a great dish washer? Is it speed? How clean the dishes are? Whether or not the job is complete and the dishes are back in the cupboard?

Create a checklist that's posted prominently on the refrigerator, not just checking off whether or not a task was completed, but with categories and scores indicating how well it was completed.

Once your game is ready, it's time to play. Who gets to be the first one to wash dishes? OK now, we're going to take turns.

Taking this approach with daily activities is an amazing way to celebrate and build independence (for both you and your kids). Or better yet, perhaps your daughter or son will usurp your dependence upon Starbucks for that Mocha Frappuccino.

Here are some more independence building tasks:
  • Upgrade the operating system and hard drive on your computer
  • Learn to ride a bicycle (Faith's favorite)
  • Plan the best route from your house to grandma's house using a paper map
  • Make a cappuccino or latte
  • Plant a small garden to enjoy the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor
  • Navigate the subway using the subway map
  • Paint a room preparing the walls and filling all the little holes before doing so
Freedoms and rights are no guarantee of independence. Independence is something that we develop and grow (and have fun with).

Happy Independence Day!


  1. It's really interesting to see how dependent we really are! Today we had some kids over at our house and I announced the next craft activity:making pinwheels. One little girl exclaimed in dismay, "We're going to MAKE them??" We are even dependent on systems, structures, other people for our entertainment, our toys. I'm sure I sounded lame to her with "yes we will make it and it will be fun!"

    I think I'll learn a foreign language before I learn to ride a bike....

  2. Faith, good point. It seems that we even depend on others to become independent.


Read, smile, think and post a message to let us know how this article inspired you...