I spent five days of last week in a small shack in the woods near Prescott, Arizona, helping my mother cater a retreat for a group that comes there every year. This is all very well and good, but Prescott, while a good deal cooler than Phoenix to the south, can be very warm indeed.
Luckily, we had the technology to solve this problem: a small, thirty-year-old swamp cooler parked right in front of the bed. I spent off time between meals lying in front of that little gust of cool air and drinking a Dr. Pepper from the refrigerator and musing that, just because of this simple luxury that I take for granted every day, I am enjoying greater luxury than Greta Garbo or Dolly Madison or Beau Brummel or Cleopatra.
Everyone always wants to pin down the one invention that changed America--well let me tell you, my nomination is most certainly the air conditioner. Air conditioning built the enormous Southwestern suburban cities, making deserts or swamps into livable places.
Computers may hold all our media, most of our social connections, and perform other amazing functions, but in my neck of the woods, if you asked someone what they can't live without, it's their air conditioning.
It all made me think of a favorite Marilyn Monroe comedy, The Seven Year Itch. I'm sure most of you have seen it. But has it ever occurred to you that, if you take Monroe's character as a desiring creature rather than merely an object of desire, the whole thing is a long, dirty love letter to air-conditioning?
Other inventions that changed our lives so dramatically we didn't even notice: the refrigerator, efficient lightbulbs, and food-canning technology. These small things shape our lives more subtly, but ultimately more drastically, than all the silicone chips we like to bury ourselves in.