The Great American Dream: Cookie Cutter Homes, Plastic, and Personal assistants
I woke up one day and put some thought into this thing we call the “American Dream”. The American Dream seems to have been transformed into mass produced cookie cutter homes, a plastic society and digital personal assistants connected to the internet which answer our every beck and call. What are the results of this new “American Dream”? We don’t take the time to live and experience the essence of life! Make memories, don’t buy them!
I have lived in the Washington, DC area the majority of my life and I’ve watched this area grow beyond imagination over the last 20 years. In between Baltimore, Maryland and Richmond, Virginia we have what the area radio stations call sprawl and crawl. From each city there has been so much building (Sprawl) and the road infrastructure simply can’t handle the growth (Crawl) it has created a great metropolis that extends 150 miles in a north south direction.
I now primarily work from home but since exiting the Marine Corps in 2000 I have spent approximately ~57,000 hours commuting over a period of 15 years. That is assuming 4 hours a day of commuting 5 times per week over 15 years. Obviously there is some room for error but you get the picture. That’s 2,375 24 hour days or 6.5 years in a 15-year period that I literally spent in a car. In the Virginia area along the I95 corridor we have something called slugging. So using this slugging system I did make very good use of my time. I spent the time reading a lot of technical books, writing papers for college and frankly sleeping. However, in hindsight I do have to ask myself was everything worth the time sacrifice that I’ve given. I think the short less analytical answer is yes. I had many mouths to feed and I was working on my career which paid off in the end.
Let’s take a step back and take a different vantage point. The American dream around the area that I live in is buying a mass produced house from a builder that builds the homes in the 1000’s. Let me give you a look at what one of these homes looks like. It will be approximately 4000 Square feet on a 1/3 acre of land and all the homes basically look the same. From the sky it will look like a whole bunch of squares with streets all crammed in a very small area that was probably farm land at some point. On holidays during the summer we’ll probably see tons and tons of grills fired up while people let off some steam waiting for that Monday morning commute for a little wash, rinse, repeat. The houses probably range from 350k to 650k and will draw some fairly educated upper middle class wage earners. Inside the houses you’ll find nice bathtubs, light fixtures, fans, wooden floors, tiled floors, multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, garages and finished basements. Many of the houses will be furnished with quality furniture or others will be furnished with cheap, mass produced and poorly built trendy furniture from the likes of Ikea or Pier 1 Imports. The furniture looks awesome but at the end of the day it’s poorly built and way overpriced. They will have outfitted the entire house with some of the nicest looking nick knacks from the trendiest places that look artsy but at the end of the day its cheap overproduced garbage. Most likely this overproduced garbage originated in China or India and was sent over to the US on some barge carrying thousands of shipping containers full of this stuff. Most of these finely crafted nick knacks will be made of plastic or maybe cast in some sort of resin but at the end of the day you won’t be leaving this stuff to your son’s and daughter’s as family heirlooms. Or there is another group of people who bought way too much house or have accumulated way too much debt. That includes high car payments because they had to have the latest trendy car or simply wanted to keep up with the Jones next door.
In this new “American Dream” we can’t survive without the latest iPhone, the latest 65-inch television set or the latest 5-dollar app that promises no real human interaction but tons of undeniable entertainment. Much of these gadgets will be purchased with credit cards with money people don’t really have which continues to rack up their debt to unspeakable levels and will take years to pay off. Because home automation and the IoT (Internet of Things) is coming to the mainstream some will automate their entire existence with the latest to include a sexy new refrigerator that has a computer built in, all automated air-conditioning throughout the home or installing smart plugs and outlets all throughout. The hope is somehow all of this will save you on your utility bills, keep the environment green or keep the burglars away by turning on and off lights during the days and nights that you are away. This will definitely keep that determined burglar away. Unfortunately, the burglars of the 21ST century will hack your house and disable whatever security you’ve implemented before breaking in but that is an entirely different conversation. Alexa, the latest joy from Amazon will make it so you don’t even need to go to the grocery store for consumables because things like toilet paper, paper towels, trash bags or anything that will not rot can simply be sent to your doorstep. How’s that for 100% complete laziness. As a matter of fact, I don’t even need to ask my wife, kids or friends for a joke. Alexa will just tell me one when I ask for it. Due to the cloud, data mining, artificial intelligence and machine learning; personal assistants like Siri, Alexa and Cortana will eventually be able to predict your behavior so you won’t even have to order anything off of the likes of Amazon. It will simply be ordered for you because Alexa knows you order Dog food every other week, what brand you order and the overall size of the order. Alexa will know every single thing about you and your refrigerator will even be able to notify you when you need milk. Multiply this by millions and millions of consumers and data like this will run inventory for entire store chains. This data will enable the ability to predict supply and demand across regions, counties, states or even countries. In the new “American dream”, you will not have to do anything. It’s simply done for you.
I’ve noticed now when you visit the grocery store in many cases you don’t even need to buy separate types of food for snacks because companies simply package the food up nice and neatly in plastic so it’s all together and ready for consumption. No longer are the days of putting school snacks and lunches together because companies simply charge you 4 times the price to give you some over processed meat, crackers and cheese and put it together in some piece of “recycled” plastic. And yes that plastic 5 times out of 10 will probably find its way to the bottom of some landfill. But no worries, they’ll build a soccer field on top of that massive landfill. Back to school lunches and snacks; Welcome to the world of precut apples in a bag or lunchables. Lunchables are such a hit they now have so many different versions I can’t even keep track. Some lunchables even come with a drink! How convenient. Lunchables even has their own website with a kids and parents section. Say what you want but lunchables are a great example of the pure laziness of the “American Dream”. A genius found a need because people either don’t have the time because they’re too busy commuting 4 hours a day or they don’t make the time to actually care about what their kids eat for lunch.
Another example is cleaning. If you go to a search engine right now and simply do a search for Mop. In the great new American dream of ease, convenience, laziness, solutions and consumption 10 different mops will pop up. What happened to the old school mop that had white yarn like string that hangs off it? You could buy one and it would last you 10+ years. Now? Well they have mops that have easily replaceable heads or maybe a mop that is battery powered and at the touch of a button it sprays some convenient solution that will clean your floor in a “special way”. Or now there are 15 different cleaners for 5 different types of floors. You have to get all 15 right? If you don’t your floors, tiles, carpets and linoleum will certainly suffer. Oh don’t forget about all of the different dusting solutions that have removable and consumable dusting heads. I mean that is truly going to keep your house dust free that is if you even dust. All of these cleaning supplies, solutions & convenience will either make it into your landfill or into your water supply. But hey it’s only eating away at your pocket book and simply filling someone else’s.
In the end I believe the American Dream continues to evolve. Consumables, disposable everything, convenience, instant access to information, solutions and consumer needs being fulfilled and a life that is moving at a million miles per hour.
My hope is that people take the time to look around them and breath in what life and the world have to offer. As opposed to dreaming of taking that hike to that beautiful spot, go take it. If there is an EPIC adventure you want to take, go take it. Don’t dream about it, just do it! Life is very short I promise. When I was in the Marine Corps I used to tell my Marines to be a “Make It Happen Marine”. So readers, make it happen! Be a “Make it happen reader”. There is so much out in the world to do and experience! Particularly in the United States there is so much that is “Free” or simply very inexpensive, family oriented and fun! For instance, I see people in Fredericksburg, VA every weekend on the Rappahannock River picnicking, swimming, fishing and enjoying what the earth has to offer. All free, all family oriented and just good times. No internet, no plastic lunches, no big screen TV’s and big houses; just people doing it old school. Go for a hike in your National and State parks and take advantage of these beautiful places. Make sure you take the time to make memories, you don’t always have to buy them. When you die you will not be taking anything with you so make those memories with the people who are in your life and they will remember it forever.
Guilty as charged but in recovery……
Take good care my friends,