I’m not prone to lying awake all night worrying. I didn’t loose any sleep when Lady Gaga was anointed one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year, though I probably should worry about who she is influencing. I don’t toss and turn all night wondering why anybody who actually drank tea, especially green tea, would never be allowed to join the Tea Party.
For some reason I find myself stressing out over the way technology, which was supposed to simplify our lives, may actually be making our lives more complicated. Dishwashers now dispense their own soap and have sensors to detect how dirty our dishes are. Simpler? Unless you’ve watched the Terminator movies, and a dishwasher that’s smarter than we are makes you nervous. You used to have to open two separate jars to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Next, you could get your PB&J premixed in the jar. Now you can get your peanut butter pre-sliced a la American cheese. Technology marches on. And every time it does, it creates a dozen more questions for every one it answers: If I buy sliced peanut butter can I find sliced jelly as well? Does chunky come sliced? Are the Elvis fans among us going to want their bananas pre-mashed next? (“Thank yu vera much!”)
Foremost on my list of unanswerable technological questions is: “Paper or plastic?” With the invention of the plastic bag a simple trip to the grocery store has become a nightmare. The first time I was asked that question, I was nonplussed, torn between too many choices — though admittedly, there were only two. I know what I’m supposed to answer: “Plastic.” Every time someone answers “Paper,” it’s another swing of the ax on our forests. So, plastic every time, right? Not so fast. Plastic is made from petroleum, another resource, that, while not as aesthetically pleasing as a tree — ever been carried away by the wind rustling through an oil field? — is just as threatened, by depletion (and leaking.) Only God can make a tree, but BP can make an oil spill.
The correct answer, you say, isn’t A or B above, or even C, but G, which stands for those green recycled bags everyone is selling. They’re reusable, made from recyclable materials. Technology solves the problem it made in the first place again.
I thought so to, until I overheard this conversation in the checkout line:
Customer: “Is this green, recycled, reusable bag itself recyclable?”
Customer: “I noticed that the recycled woven material has been sprayed with some sort of rubberized plastic. Are the chemicals in the green plastic paint biodegradable?”
Sure, those green bags had to be better than paper or plastic. But what do we do when all our landfills are overflowing with green recycled bags?
The trash that now overflows our landfills used to be free. Now, thanks to technology, we can pay for our trash. Case in point: all those plastic water bottles we toss. Sure, you can tell yourself you’re paying for the water. But let’s face it, you’re paying for the privilege of drinking that water out of a plastic bottle. Some of us pay as much as $5 a 16 oz. bottle because the label is in French, even if the fine print, also in French, translates as “Bottled in a Houston bayou.” And now technology tells us that chemicals in the plastic, probably the same chemicals they use to seal those reusable green bags, may be leaking into the water. That five dollar bottle is full of pure H2O and diluted carcinogens.
I’m with the bagger; all that’s left to say is, “Doh.”