“When a horse stops work and goes into the barn there is a life and a vitality left, there is a breathing and a warmth. … But when the motor of a tractor stops, it is as dead as the ore it came from. … The tractor man drives home to town, perhaps twenty miles away, and he need not come back for weeks or months, for the tractor is dead. And this is easy and efficient. So easy, that the wonder goes out of work, so efficient that the wonder goes out of land and the working of it, and with the wonder the deep understanding and the relation. … For nitrates are not the land, nor phosphates; and the length of fiber in the cotton is not the land. Carbon is not a man, nor salt nor water nor calcium. He is all these, but he is much more, much more; and the land is much more than its analysis.” ~John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath
Technology can be a wonderful thing. Technology is a wonderful thing. But it can also be a horror, a devil. Machines were invented to help us, to make life easier for us. They give us time to do the things that are important in life. But they also take away that connection between man and his work, between man and the land.
Steinbeck is telling us that when the farmer planted crops by hand, and harvested them by hand, or with the help of draft animals, he had a connection to the land, to the animals, to nature. When corporations own the farms, and planting and harvesting is done largely by machines, with help from hired hands who don’t own the land, that connection is lost. But farming is not the only place where that connection to our work has been lost.
When a cobbler made shoes by hand for a specific customer, he took pride in his work and wanted the customer to be satisfied, for the customers were his friends and neighbors. When a blacksmith made shoes for a horse, he made them fit that horse, and not just the average horse.
While we can easily list many advantages that have happened because of mass production and assembly-line manufacturing, there is also a down side to it that is often ignored. When the workers have no connection with the customers, ore even with the entire product, they tend to lose the incentive to produce a quality product. Then we end up with big corporations who’s goal is not to satisfy the customer, but the share-holders. They are more interested in the amount of profit than in meeting the needs of customers. In fact, they spend millions advertising products and services we don’t really need at all just to convince us we do.