I started putting on my shoes and socks this morning, and I spontaneously began complaining to Judy: “This is the hardest part of my day; first I cross my right leg and start putting on that sock . . . what a pain! . .get the toes in place, then the heel, now pull it up my ankle; got to uncross my leg in order to pick up my shoe . . . cross the leg again . . . pull on the shoe . . . dragging it over my heel is always a chore . . . never was good at tying a bow . . . clumsy old-man fingers make it worse . . success!. Oh no, still the left leg to go; lift it, cross it, struggle with the sock, uncross, pick up shoe, cross again, tug it on, tie an uneven bow . . . breathe a little sigh of relief when leg #2 hits the ground.” I don’t know how much of this play-by-play I actually said out loud, but I do remember concluding with the wistful remark, “I won’t see these beautiful feet again until 11 or so tonight when I peel the layers off.” (You can see why Judy’s stayed with me for 57 years.)
So, why hasn’t modern science automated this boring process? I think it would be easy to market a Boot Butler, a shoe-box-size device that will do all that for you when you step one foot at a time into it. What an energy saver! (Of course, I’d have to find another subject for my morning conversation with my wife.)
The Boot Butler’s just the beginning. There are lots of routines in my daily life that could be done by computer-driven machines. Why should I lift a fork over and over again to deliver my breakfast from the plate to my mouth – maybe involving a mini-conveyor belt. Showering involves a lot of unnecessary muscular activity; wouldn’t a series of rotating brushes, set at strategic angles, do the job more effectively, like in a car wash. And speaking of cars, what about all the nervous energy, aggravation and tightened jaw muscles it takes to drive to work in the morning. Couldn’t that be done by computer-control of accelerating, braking and steering, based on GPS orientation combined with several cameras well-positioned in the car?
Wait, that’s already happening! It’s what I heard about on the news last night. Several car makers have already developed and tested the technology for driverless cars. They’re waiting for various state laws to be adjusted before they can begin mass marketing. In fact, this month Uber will be delivering its first fleet of driverless cars-for-hire to Pittsburgh. These Volvo XC90s will have a robot pilot and co-pilot to double-check for safety during the phase-in process.
So relax, you’ll be able to have your own driverless car in a year or two. The Boot Butler may come even sooner, if I can get a few kinks worked out in the design. Soon you’ll be able to play games on your smart phone without having to stop to do these menial tasks..
But is that what we really want? With all the accelerating of technological advances over the past few decades, our elation has been mixed with some significant doubts. Are humans really healthier, happier and more fulfilled because they have ample leisure and can experience more self-indulgence? Why is it that we seem to find some comfort and relief in following old routines that we can easily escape from in the modern world? Why do older retired people often turn to hobbies that involve simple manual tasks, like knitting, gardening and woodworking? Why do I fantasize driving an old car that I have to shift with a clutch, rather than being transported in a driverless monstrosity?
After the excitement of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, the disciples weren’t sure what to do next. (This story is found in John 21.) Peter said to the others,”I’m going fishing.” The rest joined him in what, for some of them, had been their work routine since they were boys. With some divine help, they brought in a nice catch. On shore they met Jesus. He had started a charcoal fire to cook the fish. A charcoal fire? He could have zapped the fish with a high-tech lightening bolt and created an instant feast! But he just crouched next his old-fashioned charcoal fire with his buddies. I love the picture.
During their conversation over the fish dinner, Peter kept trying to get reassurance about his relationship with Jesus. Here’s what Jesus finally said to him:
“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”
Then, I felt as if Jesus turned to me and said,
“Be thankful you can still put on your own shoes and socks. Some day you’re fingers won’t work well enough, and somebody will have to tie the bow, just like your mother used to.”
In that moment, both Peter and I were reassured that Jesus’ love for us would outlast our ability to do the big things, or even the little things.
— Pastor George Van Alstine