How many of us can answer the question, “what do you do for a living?” with precisely one sentence and know that everyone understands you? When I taught science in a public high school, I could do that. Yet, once I became an IT guy, I couldn’t. My salary tripled, but my connectedness to humanity dropped off the face of the earth. And I begin to wonder, and I have made a conclusion.
The pattern of current history is that life is becoming more and more specialized in the things that we produce and more diverse in the things we consume.
Ponder that. Some people make a living taking pictures of parked cars and writing tickets. Others make a living drawing pictures using only a computer. Others work on software that exists in no real space. How many of us can genuinely explain our jobs to the people we meet with confidence that they understand what we do?
Yet, we all eat a wide variety of foods unavailable even to a billionaire 100 years ago.
Ponder that. We eat fruit from California, cheese from Europe, grains from Italy, perhaps all during the same meal. We can see more movies from our computer than even the most sophisticated of socialites from London in 1900. We can watch sports rewinds and old movies all day long from the comfort of our bed.
Yet, in downtimes, like the quarantines of COVID, we revert on both fronts. For example, during the depression, families started keeping livestock again and growing their food in the backyard. Home crafts replaced out-of-town vacations. Family game nights replaced shopping trips. Wilderness camping replaced congested beach outings.
For most of us, restauranting ceased as we knew it during COVID. Some of us tried the doordash route, but the ambiance of eating away was lost. Access to cooking websites increased, and we all learned to enjoy family dinner around the table at the center of life only 100 years before.
Yet, the real question that none currently alive can answer is plain. With all of our technology and instant access to knowledge, are we better off now than those from our past?
The unspoken assumption is the cost we have paid for access to all of our diverse food and entertainment choices has been worth it. In essence, we got a good deal having obscure jobs in exchange for variety. We agreed that the murky view of the work we do was worth the trade. Our isolation between 9 am and 5 pm was worth it during the 5 pm to 9 am when we are not working.
Yet, I wonder.
Once I became the president of an IT services company, I absolutely couldn’t tell people what we sold or what it meant to those who bought it. I lived a life of smoke and mirrors, and so did my staff. I was surfing with aliens, especially at parties when I would try to describe work only to find myself unable to find analogies that portrayed me accurately. In general, I didn’t.
There is hope. Once we moved to the country, we grew lots of our food. We began raising chickens.
I now have multiple fractional careers. All of them make sense again. Today, I went to purchase a truckload of gravel. The lady who sold it to me said, “Hey, I know you! You are an author and a Christian man, to boot!” I don’t know her name, and I probably should have asked. Yet, I am confident that whatever visualization she got of what an author does was probably accurate. We sit, we write, we ponder, we talk to friends and family, and we write again.
Guiding people on epic tours in the Himalaya creates visuals that are more right than wrong. Two weeks ago, a woman said to me, “Hey, didn’t you take Joe to Mt. Everest?” I immediately thought, “No, I didn’t, but whatever pictures you got for that story were more right than wrong.”
I kind of like it how people just know me, but that they get things wrong is a bit saddening. I am no celebrity, but the idea of starting in the wrong place is something I just need to get used to.
Yet none of my new endeavors have the financial upside that my old IT life did. Sure, some books make millions, but most don’t, even when written by an already successful author. My tours are cheaper than the competition, but I can’t take many people with me.
For now, reading and writing are my thing. I am grateful. Yet, I wonder am I better off on the inside than my immigrant grandfather. While I sort it out, pass me the Canadian granola and the Greek Yoghurt, please.