Have you ever heard someone say something like, ‘That guy is a machine’? Or maybe you have heard something like, ‘She just powers on like a machine’. When people say such things about others I’m often left feeling a little confused. It surprised me to realise the other day that those words are meant as a compliment. In our fast-paced, driven and ambitious society, being called a machine is a way to flatter someone who is striving for results, success and prominence. And our culture is all about results, success and prominence.
We love machines.
Machines make our lives more efficient. Machines make things go faster. Machines produce perfect results. Machines are shiny. Ever since the industrial revolution we have loved machines, we have proclaimed their immeasurable worth, we have declared that we could not live without them, we have given them to each other as gifts, signs of our love.
But we have transposed this love onto human beings. If machinery is so valuable then maybe, just maybe, we thought, if we started acting like machines we too might become successful, and produce perfect results.
But our Creator did not design us to be like machines. In fact, it is incredibly dehumanising to see each other as machines. Maybe it does mean that we produce more, faster, better and more perfect than mere humans are prone to do. But at what cost?
The other day I took my four year old niece out to the park. I had the whole day planned. First of all we would go to the cafe at the park and get a babyccino (though my niece tells me I need to clarify that it was a ‘biggirlccino’). After this we would play at the park for about half an hour, then we would walk over to the water and skid some stones on the surface. We would then walk over to where there was a band playing and listen to the music. I had it all planned out. At each step of the way I shooed her along, ‘Come on let’s go, we need need to move on to our next adventure’. ‘Hurry up. We don’t have all day’, I would be saying as we quickly moved along. As we were walking towards our next activity, my niece stopped in her tracks and looked out over the bay at the glistening blue water reflecting in the warm sunshine. I looked at her and she had a dazed look on her face, the look you get when you are lost in a moment of time and you are mesmerised, enveloped by the moment. She took my hand and dragged me to the edge of the bay where the boats dock and said to me ‘Let’s rest here for a little bit’. Obediently I sat down next to her and we put our hands on our chins and simply stared out over the water watching the boats and birds surrounding us. We listened to the silence and we looked at the beauty around us.
I realised I had been acting like a machine. My niece made me start acting like a human again.
Machines methodically move from one activity to the next, humans take breaks. Machines produce perfect results, humans get it wrong quite often. Machines make life more efficient, humans get caught up in the mess of daily life.
I like machines.
But I hope that I never see any human being, most of all myself, as one.
And I wish that the words ‘He works like a machine’ or ‘She’s a machine’, would be taken as a gentle admonishment when it comes out of our mouths rather than a flattering comment.
Maybe one day we will change our culture of busyness, speed and efficiency for the better rather than letting it change us for the worse.
I hope so.