The progress paradox

Nov 06, 2016 by Ronnie Apteker

I have been referring to the progress paradox and the purpose-money continuum and the quality-quality struggle for quite some time now. Simply put, the paradox of our time is that we live in an age of incredible prosperity and convenience - life has never been easier - we have all kinds of machines and devices to help us; yet, our ability to cope with life seems to be deteriorating with each technological advancement.

Spot on Mr. Carlin

An inspiring young man named Gareth first sent me this text. Here it is in its entirety. Yes, it reads very funny but the truth is that its realities are very disconcerting. “The Paradox of Our Age - We have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints; we spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less. We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; we have more degrees, but less common sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems; more medicine, but less wellness. We spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too seldom, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and lie too often. We've learned how to make a living, but not a life; we've added years to life, not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbour. We've conquered outer space, but not inner space; we've done larger things, but not better things; we've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we've split the atom, but not our prejudice; we write more, but learn less; plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait; we have higher incomes, but lower morals; more food but less appeasement; more acquaintances, but fewer friends; more effort but less success. We build more computers to hold more information, but have less communication; we've become long on quantity, but short on quality. These are the time of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men and short character; steep profits, and shallow relationships. These are the times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure and less fun; more kinds of food, but less nutrition. These are days of two incomes, but more divorce; of fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the show window, and nothing in the stockroom. We live in an age where people desire to be envied rather than esteemed.”

Do any of us really know why we do what we do?

If I am not mistaken these words originally come from the comic genius of George Carlin. And with that I reckon it is safe to assume that he meant it as a joke. But it’s not funny. I mean it is funny, but it is not. Does this make any sense? Does anything make any sense these days? Why is it that people are dropping out of university to start businesses when the very reason they went to university was to learn how to do something in the world? Or was that the reason? As Stephen Covey points out, perhaps too many people are simply there to get a piece of paper so that can seek employment somewhere.

I will be the first to admit that when I was 18 I had no clue what I was doing at university. I probably went there because my parents thought it was a good idea. And hey, I didn’t think it was a bad idea either. But the truth be told, none of us had any real idea what it meant. If I look back now at my academic career, it was truly wonderful. I was very privileged to be able to build up a network of inspiring and knowledgeable people. I learnt how to articulate arguments and to write documents. I learnt how to communicate and research facts. And I learnt how to lead. Ironic isn’t it that people are dropping out of business schools to take leadership roles in start-ups. No wonder so many of these new economy businesses are failing. Hey, you can’t cheat nature. That is what the progress paradox is fundamentally about.

There are limits

There is a limit to how many people you can put on hold, and to how much e-mail you can reply to in a day, and to how many text messages you can send. Before you know it you are going to collapse. Sending messages all over the place and making 101 calls a day is all about quantity. When is the last time you had a good heart-to-heart with someone on the phone? I thought so. Mr Carlin, where are you?

The world does not seem to be big on quality these days. And why are people drinking things called Pink Cow or whatever it is? What happened to the days of the Harvey Wallbanger and the Bloody Mary? Is everything about numbers? Are we going to commoditize everything?

Summing up

The paradox of our age is about a world that is being controlled by the very technologies that are meant to be helping us. Why is it that house-wives clean their houses more these days than they did 30 years ago? Even with all these new cleaning technologies we still spend more time doing this. Why? Because our houses simply keep getting bigger and bigger. This is quantity in a nutshell. The idea of a cozy, charming house is not high on anyone’s agenda these days.

If the paradox of progress continues we are going to all be a statistic very soon. Kinda makes sense. Statistics are all about numbers and quantitative life is a numbers game. Well, George, at least you gave us a quality laugh.

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