“Do you want to take a look at the solar eclipse? You can use my glasses!” I hollered to the UPS driver who had just pulled up across the street. Her response? “Sorry, my day is packed -- no time.” With that, she drove away.
August 21, 2017 marked the first total solar eclipse across North America in nearly a century. The last similar coast-to-coast spectacle was in 1918; the last eclipse visible anywhere in the US was in 1979. My kids were let out of class to check it out; my buddy Mike drove with his brother to Tennessee to be in the “path of totality;” and my sister, President of Metro State University, had ordered bundles of branded glasses to pass out to staff and students. It was with some of those MSU glasses that Emily and I were checking in on the eclipse over the hour, following along for fun the Twitter and NASA live streams #SolarEclipse2017!
All this makes the reaction from the UPS driver a bit disturbing. Perhaps it’s a meta statement of how we’ve created a society of neoclassical economic automatons, so efficiently scheduled to the minute and pressed to the limit that a driver can’t step off the truck for a minute or two to look at a once in a lifetime event. To be honest, what you saw through the glasses wasn’t a whole lot different from what was on TV screens and newspapers the next day. But still, really? Why live one’s only life on planet Earth, if you can’t take a moment to look at the sun which keeps us all alive during its special moment?
Wouldn’t it be ironic if the UPS driver had been delivering packages of solar eclipse glasses all across town the day before?
Of course, this could just be one busy driver, perhaps she had a flat earlier in the day, setting her behind schedule. But, times like this make me question if the quest for ultimate economic efficiency is crowding out even the simplest joys and purposes of life on Earth. What is it about our system that so many of working age are underemployed, especially non-college educated men, while at the same time others are working more and more? What’s driving this paradox of leisure?
Perhaps it’s time to consider the 32-hour work week again? Or, maybe to question why we’re encouraged to get up at 4 am to “be more productive.” Personally, I do get up at 4 am; but the time is mine: Early morning coffee, read a bit of the newspaper, off to the gym, and back in time to see my kids off to school. I do it to live, not to work. I hope, with the promise of automation and productivity, we can all live a bit more.