I remember watching The Jetsons for the first time and wondering why anyone would ever go outside when such entertainment was available at no cost (I didn’t pay the cable bill when I was 12). Thus began my slide to slothfulness. First it was cable television; a veritable cornucopia of viewing options all flowing into the living room of a prepubescent youth already disenchanted with physical labor. After cable came the internet, then satellite television, Wi-Fi, digital cable and PVRs. What is a boy with an aversion to hard work and an endless opportunity for mindless entertainment to do? The answer, I am afraid, is not much.
Ben seeks industry. He exhorts us to “Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.” Of course, Ben did not grow up in the Information Age. If he had, however, I think he still would have been industrious.
This was not a man given over to idleness. Everyone knows about the experiments with electricity and the bifocals, but he was also responsible for the Franklin stove, the glass armonica, the flexible urinary catheter and the lighting rod. He used his various voyages across the Atlantic Ocean to be the first to map the Gulf Stream. No, I don’t think The Jetsons would have kept Ben from being employed in something useful.
I, as I hope I have made apparent in previous posts, am not Benjamin Franklin. Being industrious requires real self-discipline at a time when all of the world’s knowledge is just a click away. That, for me, is a struggle. Just last week I sat around a campfire with my family staring at a brilliant night sky full of stars and planets and constellations. As we watched the passage of a satellite (I recognize the irony here) someone marveled at its speed. Guesses and speculation abounded until, finally, one of our number announced that he was breaking campfire etiquette and pulled out his smartphone to google the answer (depending on its orbit just under 17,000 miles per hours if it is important for you to know). I recognize that we were not, in our stargazing, being industrious but it exemplifies our inability to tune out the wonders of the modern world to enjoy the wonders of the natural one. If such is the case, then our information and entertainment options must also have impacted our ability to be industrious. I know they have for me.
One could argue that we have the capacity to be more industrious with our technology. I don’t dispute that but I think there is a gaping chasm between capacity and performance. I have no qualms with Pokémon Go; I’m just not prepared to call it productive.
In my week of industry with Ben I tried to address the impact of technology on my personal efforts to “lose no time”. I did this by banning television from my life. It was, for once in my struggles with moral perfection, a success. I did not invent the armonica or map the Gulf Stream, but I did create a legal manual for my colleagues and started to build a software application for the creation of requests for search warrants (as yet unfinished, I acknowledge). I had been, for that week at least, industrious. It was a good feeling. So how can you too succeed at industry?
I believe the first rule of industry is to eliminate distractions. As Ben wrote, “cut off all unnecessary actions”. Industry may mean different things to different people; we are not all cut out to improve urinary catheters. We can, however, be industrious within the realm of our own skills. To do that it is important to set aside the enemies of industry, whatever they may be. For me they remain television and the internet. I did not maintain my total ban on these abettors of lethargy, but I am mindful of their influence and keep their non-industrious use to a minimum.
Another key to industry is collaboration. Many hands make light work, wrote John Heywood. So it is, at least for some, with industry. You do not need to collaborate to be industrious but working with others builds relationships and that, like industry, is very Ben like.
Finally, remember not to get lost in industry. We should all have the opportunity to rest from our labors. Industry gives meaning to leisure. I think back to my recent brush with astronomy. It was awe-inspiring to stare into the night sky and simply wonder. Be industrious yes, but don’t forget to do a little stargazing.