Machines pull the plug on farm life
By CarRol Vertrees For the Post-Tribune September 14, 2013 11:24PM
Updated: October 16, 2013 6:21AM
If Peter, Paul and Mary had been around in the fading days of my rural kidhood, they might have written a song called “Where have all the Equines Gone?”
Well, the horses and mules were involuntarily retired, sent off to green pastures or slaughterhouses. Man’s inventiveness did it, creating machines to replace horses, taking some of the drudgery out of farming.
But rural America paid a price — the technological facelift changed the way rural families lived and looked. Gradually the meaning of the old hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves” lost its meaning. Even we kids understood that it joyously described the harvesting of souls. And we knew about sheaves. Horses, and later tractors, pulled a machine called a binder through ripening fields of wheat, cutting it, depositing bundles (sheaves) on the ground, neatly tied with twine.
Workers gathered the bundles and stacked them into shocks. Weeks later, a noisy steam-powered threshing machine lumbered up a lane to a barn area, where workers hauled in the sheaves and dumped them into the machine’s maw. It separated grain from straw. The harvest was in, but it required neighborly cooperation and two procedures.
Kids like me thought it was romantic — we could ride a horse and carry water to the field workers. Technology ended that when farmers could pull a combine into the fields and do the threshing right there. No sheaves. No big neighborly dinners. This was progress.
Technology marches on. Is there no end? I saw a documentary that showed a giant warehouse where robotic creations answered signals and delivered packages. Somewhere, maybe, a real person pushed some buttons. Peter, Paul and Mary might have done a song called “Where Have all the Workers Gone?”
Life must be dull for those robotics things. No wisecracks about a secretary’s hairdo. No office gossip. No office romances. No sick pay or days off for funerals, no marching to protest working conditions. After they deliver, they go back to their place where they seem to rest in subtle, smug somnolence. They do not have to commute to work, though, and fret over the price of gasoline.
Before technology came to the farms, rural neighborhoods were models of cooperation. They helped each other. It was necessary. It was rewarding. It worked.
Technology clearly has changed the way we live. Maybe we are better off, but how do we measure that?
I remember that the elder George Bush talked about “a kinder, gentler America.” Are we closer to that wonderful ideal? Despite these wonderful advances in technology, we are still leaving a lot of sheaves out there, waiting to be harvested by the simple machine of kindness.
Robotics cannot do that harvest.