Tuesday, September 13, 2011

21st Century Priorities

Oh, boy. Here's a fun study from the London Science Museum (I don't know exactly what their methodology was, so I don't know how much statistical validity to place on the results, but I digress) that speaks volumes about where we're placing our priorities these days.
If you had to start life all over again today, what would be the things you'd need the most?
A roof over your brains, surely. A bed, perhaps. Running water, too. How about a toilet that worked?
I ask this perhaps unnecessary question because of a survey conducted by London's Science Museum. Scientists always care about people, so they asked 3,000 of them what things in this fair world they couldn't live without.
Because people are insane optimists, the one thing that these respondents claimed they couldn't live without was sunshine.
Because people are merely insane, the fifth thing these respondents claimed they couldn't live without was Facebook.
You'll be wondering, through your self-aware haze, what other things were more important than Facebook.
Well, second came Internet connection, closely followed by clean drinking water. (Yes, I have that the right way 'round.) Fourth was a fridge. Yes, you might wonder where, say, shoes came. Twentieth. You might also consider how highly people ranked fresh vegetables. Sixteenth...
But it's ninth place that is, perhaps, most worthy of note. In that rather sad position sat a flushing toilet. This most certainly conjures a troubling view of humanity's future, as everyone socially networks amid a deadly stench.
Good times. Clearly this study reveals a whole host of oddities of the human mind--among others, we consider most dear those things that we've most recently been without--and while it's tempting to dismiss the whole thing with a "the whole world is screwed" head-smack (which I definitely considered), I think it's more meaningful to consider what it says about how we judge our priorities.

If we were to take away all plumbing from the city of London and plunge it back into medieval times with chamber pots and pattens (watch this video for some more fun history), and then conduct this study again, I think they'd have a decidedly different ranking of the importance of flushing toilets. But we're all so far removed from those days now that we don't fully appreciate what it was like before toilets--therefore, we take them for granted.

Of course, maybe this should be taken as a somewhat uplifting study--people value Facebook because they value relationships, and people, and being part of a community. That's a good thing, right? So then, why does it feel so wrong?


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