October 29, 2004

There's Nothing Like a Human Being

I love the legend of John Henry, which is still timely in an increasingly technological age.

John Henry is representative of a dying breed of proud, hard-working, “salt of the earth” types who earn their wage through physical labor. Since John Henry’s time, many jobs have been phased out by money-saving technological advances. In the story, he refuses to be displaced by a machine and manages to beat it through sheer will-power. (OK so he dies in the end) What a marvelous statement of human worth.

I find myself cheering for humanity, (though I suspect Prof. Jerz, technophile that he is, might be cheering for the steam drill?:)) Technology is a necessary evil, but something has been lost. I hate listening to those stupid voice menus every 1-800 helpline and company seems to have. It takes me twice as long to get through Giant Eagle’s self-scan checkout than when a real person checks me out. (“re- MOVE your BA- NANAS from the BELT”…please RESCAN this I-tem”) I miss having a nice man pump my gas, wipe my windshield and offer to check my oil. Now all I get is a terse, disembodied voice issuing instructions while I fumble around looking for the right card to scan and buttons to push.

In a more recent “Man vs. Machine" contest last year, chess champion Garry Kasparov took on Deep Junior which is “the Reigning Absolute World Computer Chess Champion”. In 6 matches, he beat it once, the computer won once and the rest of the matches were a draw. So, they’re even for now and at least it didn’t kill him. Go humans!

Posted by LindaFondrk at October 29, 2004 11:51 AM

I think that the "necessary evils" you mention are not evil at all and that humanity is reaching a potential, through technology, far greater than our physical capabilities.

Can you compute calculus equations in seconds? Can you lift a building and transport it to someplace else? No--at least I can't.

While people are still trying to find a place amid all of the technology that is reigning in our time and society is changing because of these advancements, people are the same, just expressing themselves in a different way.

While we do have the things that maybe shouldn't be computerized (i.e. your checkout and gas up experiences) human physical capabilities are sometimes just not enough--that is why our reason--our minds are equipped with ideas that provide these advancements, which in most cases, do improve our standards of living. I mean, who really wants an outdoor toilet, or only communicate with friends once a month as the letter crosses the mountains? Not me. If those are my choices, give me the impersonal checkout any day.

Posted by: Amanda at October 30, 2004 11:24 AM

Well, first off, I was in a light-hearted, slightly cantankerous mood when I wrote that...certainly all technology is not "evil", it's more of an expression. I remember the days of writing letters, sending then with a stamp to good friends and there was a real tangible sweetness in our carefully wrought handwritten exchanges. We awaited them with such anticipation! I am part of a generation that didn't grow up with cell phones and email. While I do avail myself of this technology and it is convenient, I can't help but feel nostalgic for a slower pace.(or maybe I'm just getting old) Part of that is also my quieter, contemplative personality. I respect that you love the fast paced life! That's great, you're going to achieve great things.(And please keep in mind, I often speak with tongue firmly in cheek!) Linda

Posted by: LindaFondrk at October 30, 2004 06:06 PM


Salt of the earth is not something we so much see on a daily basis in our automated society. I agree with you. I hate to deal with computers instead of people; they're null and void of emotion. It troubles me that the push is on to move to relying on electronics for everything. When did human interfacing go out the door? Like you, I can't wait to get a letter in the mail from my best friend. She took the time to sit down, think about what she was going to write, and then, write it. She didn't just zap off a quick email while watching tv, listening to the radio, IM-ing 30 people, and playing a computer game. Send me a letter anyday.


Posted by: Katie Aikins at October 31, 2004 07:39 PM


I would agree with your statement. I do believe that John Henry demonstrated how manpower overtook machine. People can get on with their lives, without so much technology. We have to learn to do things for ourselves, instead of having everything automatic or computerized. It was sad how John Henry died and replaced his working ethnics with a steam drill. No matter what happened, the steam drill was going to come into play. Overall, I think we are depending on too much technology, for example, now people can't live without cell phones. Well, what happened before the invention of cell phones? People still went on with their lives. Go figure.

-Nabila :)

Posted by: NabilaUddin at November 1, 2004 05:30 PM

What great points. We have lost touch with a sense of hard work (by hard, I mean laborous, I'm getting sweaty kind of work). There is 1 full service gas station left in Mt. Pleasant and I go there every chance i get, even though they don't wipe my windshield I'm still warm in the car. Also, like Nabila mentions about cell phones. Cell phones are the biggest scam in the world, but we all have one and can't live without them!

Posted by: Jessica Zelenak at November 30, 2004 02:06 PM
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