Monday, September 23, 2013

On need

I don't think it's a  secret. The modern world has convinced us that we need much more than we do.

Like refrigerators.

I don't have one. I am not starved. Or malnourished. In fact, I eat healthier now than when there was a fridge in the house. Think about it. How much of the stuff in the refrigerator is stuff you actually need? How much of it is good for you? How much of it would rot in less than 5 days if it wasn't refrigerated?

Maybe not needing a fridge is a little far-fetched for some people. So how about a car? Whether you need a car depends on where you live. How's the public transportation? How far from work/school do you live? Can you get there without a car? If you need something that must be done with a car, is there someone close to you who will do it?

Now that I've got a Japanese license, friends keep asking when I'm getting a car. Truth is I don't think I need one.

I've lived in this town for 5 years. When I came, I didn't have an International license because of the joy that is the Barbados Licensing Authority. I could have gone to get a Japanese license. But two of my schools and town hall were within walking distance. The third school was an easy bus ride for US$2.50. I could walk to the supermarket. Taxis were expensive but not so much so that I couldn't call one if I had a heavy package from the home store. Now, I work at one school I can walk to and my other school is right next to the train station, one stop away. Even after the recent typhoon, when the trains weren't running there was still a bus.

The trains are an hour apart and the buses are inconvenient. It's hell with a cherry on top to get to any town the train doesn't run to, and sometimes it can be complicated for the ones with trains that aren't a straight shot. But, I do have access to cars. My Japanese Dad's car has taken to parking itself at my apartment, and just last night, the mechanic was like, 'Claire,  you can use my carS any time.' I don't really need a car and if do, they are several available.

My friends who keep asking are all drivers themselves or foreigners. I guess they see cars as infinitely more convenient than the alternatives. But since my alternatives are easy, a car looks like a colossal pain in the in-grown toenail. Buying them, insuring them, filling them up, all cost money. They inform people of your every move. If you run into a parked car with just your body, who cares? Run into it with a car and you're liable. I don't need a car.

The third thing I often think of as 'you really don't need this anywhere near as much as you think you do' is a smart phone. To start with, the necessity of a cell phone is questionable. It's linked to your line of work, your neighbourhood, how many people really need to be able to contact you right now. But even if we assume a cell phone is necessary, does your phone really need to be able to plot the entire solar system?

I've only recently crossed over to smart-dom. The only reason I need  a smart phone now is because I've decided not to get internet at home (to avoid ridiculous broken contract fees if I have to move again) and my family on the other side of the world likes to know that they can find me without having to get on a rice boat. I don't even like it. It makes me feel way to over connected. So it spends half the time at home or turned off, making it actually LESS useful than the idiot-phone I had before.

The other funny thing about these ''needs'' is that they all have drawbacks. Guns don't shoot people. People shoot people. But without a gun, people - try as they might - can't shoot people. Similarly fridges make people fatter and unhealthier. Cars cause more pollution than they need to because people get used to having them and drive when they could reasonably walk or use other transportation. I also suspect that having smart phones do all our thinking is going to start to atrophy our brains at some point.

It's a lot to chew on, but I wonder how often people take the necessities for granted. All people really need is air, water and food. After that it's a hierarchy of how much easier life becomes with the inclusion of a particular thing.

You think you need it, but do you really? And is it actually doing you more harm than good?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One thing that amused me in Japan was when drivers were shocked that I walked from my schools to the train station. It was 10-minute walk at most and they were as impressed as if I were running a marathon every day! I really do think that driving most places you go warps your sense of what is a walkable distance ...