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David Bouchier: A Few Well Chosen Words

David Bouchier: Fit Or Fat?

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As I get older I get lazier, but the technology of laziness is always several steps ahead of me. I accept that my car has electrically operated windows, and that not having to crank them up and down must save me at least half dozen calories of energy in a year. The seats and mirrors can also be adjusted electrically, without any effort on my part, and a GPS (if I had a GPS which I don’t) would preserve me from the exhausting labor of unfolding a map, and looking at it.

So I have taken only the first baby steps into the effortless future world where we will never have to use any energy for any reason at all. Since the 18th century philosophers have argued about what exactly constitutes human progress. Some suggested that we were destined to achieve a higher spirituality or a higher morality, others claimed that the perfection of humankind would be the achievement of equality, peace, and freedom. Nobody guessed that the ultimate human goal would be complete physical inertia.

There are many labor-saving devices I haven’t tried yet. For example I can’t bring myself to use the Gmail “Smart Reply” feature that suggests how I should respond to messages, and therefore save the effort of typing half a dozen words. No doubt this feature will soon to be upgraded by artificial intelligence so that it will reply automatically to all our correspondence, and we can simply stay in bed and let the computers get on with it. Another thing I have avoided so far is the creeping and creepy spread of voice controlled gadgets that can be asked the time or the temperature or the name of Johann Sebastian Bach’s second wife. Lights, television and security systems can be controlled by muttering a lethargic word or two. Your Kindle or IPad flips the pages of your books and will soon read them for you, and decide whether you like them or not.

Online shopping keeps us snug and immobile at home, and if we do leave the house we will soon be able to slump in in the back seat of our self-driving cars, living free in an effortless electronic heaven.

It all reminds me of a science fiction book I once read. Passengers on a space ship were strapped zombie-like into their seats for a voyage of many years. They were entertained, kept warm and comfortable, but they never moved. When they reached their destination, of course, they saw no reason to move, and couldn’t.

What spoils this utopian vision of a zero-energy lifestyle is the daily barrage of advice and warnings on the subject of exercise and health. On the one hand we are offered the paradise of laziness enabled by one set of gadgets, and on the other the tyranny of constant activity threatened by a different set of gadgets that measure every step we take or fail to take, and issue praise or blame accordingly. What kind of choice is that? Are we to be divided into two nations, the fit and the fat? And will there be a place for those of us who would prefer not to join either party, but to pursue the path of “moderation in all things” advised by Aristotle who, we can be fairly sure, took no unnecessary exercise and carried no mobile device more complicated than a simple reed pen?

Copyright: David Bouchier