Americans are saving too much labor


For the gadget-happy among us, the 21st century is a great time to be alive. Of course, if we're not careful all these gadgets will be the death of us.

We already don't have to move from our couches to turn on the TV or change the channel and with remotes we can turn on lights in distant parts of our homes. With computers we can turn them on and off from a motel room in the next state.

We seem to have an obsession for “labor-saving devices” but saving all that labor is taking its toll on our health, our budgets and our environment. Here is just one example, laundering clothes. Let's just consider modern washers and dryers with all their bells and whistles as really big gadgets.

I can still remember washing clothes in a wringer wash machine, which was probably a lot more labor saving than the washboard and tubs my grandmother and great-grandmother used.

Wash day was Saturday when Mom could count on having me around to help. My brothers didn't do laundry; Dad said laundry was “women's work.” (He did apologize for that several years later. Gee, thanks Dad!)

Until I was in my early teens, Mom didn't let me anywhere near the dangerous wringers but I was intimately familiar with clotheslines. In our ringer-washer days we had just enough clothes, along with one or two extra outfits for special occasions, and bedding to last the week between washings. If you've ever read the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books you know that Laura had only one or two weekday dresses and the same number of Sunday-go-to-meeting dresses.

When we bought the automatic washer and dryer, the number of our outfits proliferated. Now my closets are full to bursting and, of course, I still have nothing to wear.

Having so many outfits means I have to work harder to pay for them and I do laundry more often; there's no such thing as wearing the same blouse twice even if I didn't spill anything on it (a rare occasion indeed and something to write home about).

More clothes means growing more cotton, shearing more sheep, drilling for more oil, more spinning, weaving and sewing and using more power, more water, more chemicals and more transportation.

Now that laundering clothing has become easier, we're not lugging baskets full of wet, heavy clothes out to the clotheslines. We're saving time and labor but we've lost one more of the many activities our bodies think of as “exercise.” Every time we embrace a new labor-saving device or gadget we're just making it that much easier for our bodies to get fatter. And we're spending more money at the gym and on diets to counteract our not-so-active lifestyles.

Maybe we should think about that the next time we're looking the next new labor-saving device and remember the difference between what we need and what we want.


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