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Costs and Benefits

     Recently, I accompanied my son's class on a trip to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.  If you're unfamiliar with the place, it's a collection of actual buildings of historical import moved there at Henry Ford's direction.  He was trying to bring a bit of America's (and a smidgen of Europe's) history to the Detrioit area.  Of course, there is an emphasis on the Industrial Revolution and its subsequent developments and technology.
So, the narrative at the Village (OK, there are actually three--farming, handicrafts (including glass blowing, pottery, and textiles), and the wonders of mechanical energy) is all about the benefits of steam, coal, and electric power.  Nowhere to be found, however, are the costs stemming from the Revolution.  Nothing is mentioned about the home economy that was swallowed, the great migration to cities and industrial centers that created slums.  Absent as well are the ecological costs of extraction, manufacturing, and consumption.  Nothing but shiny, mechanized PROGRESS.
     Lest I sound like a crank, I was reflecting on mechanical energy when I was at my second backyard a few weeks later (I own some property a county away from where I live).  A friend and I were clearing out Autumn olive (Elaegnus umbellata) and chipping that invasive shrub to make a pathway through my woods.  We were able to down at least a dozen of them (they rarely grow taller than 25 feet--these were about 4 to 8 feet tall) and had enough woodchips to create a path about 3 feet wide and over 30 feet long.  None of this would have been possible (at least in 5 hours) without gas-powered saws and a chipper.  Not to mention the milled handles on the rakes and shovels, the forged rake and shovel heads, the wheelbarrow with the plastic bucket and rubber tire, too.  It wouldn't do to forget the truck that brought us and the equipment there as well.
     Ease, speed, efficiency: these are legacies of the Industrial Revolution. We could have felled the trees/shrubs with axes, but I doubt anyone turned limbs and branches into woodchips prior to internal combustion engines.  That probably would have been viewed as wasteful.
     As with any new technology that comes along, people tout the benefits, but rarely trumpet the costs.  Cell phones, computers, MP3 players, streaming movies and music, ATMs, GPS units, they all provide benefits but how have they changed the human person in negative ways?  Why aren't we talking about this more?  We all want the new X-Box One, but we don't want to think about yet another electronic device that uses electricity and sucks our time away.


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