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‘Loonie’ visionaries continue to shape our world - Albia Newspapers: Opinion

‘Loonie’ visionaries continue to shape our world

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Posted: Friday, July 7, 2017 2:28 pm

WHOLE FOODS MARKET and Amazon.com seem like an unlikely mixture of books and groceries.

Not really; Amazon.com wanted an entry into the American grocery business, as it already had gained a foothold in apparel, furniture, Websites, and other major areas. And the addition of Whole Foods made Amazon.com overtake WalMart as the nation’s largest grocery chain, and made Amazon head Jeff Bezos the richest man in the country.

Learning of the merger, Whole Foods employees were afraid the new owners would replace the human workers with robots. They were right; Bezos is robotizing and automating his new U.S. company, as already done in some of the conglomerate’s European stores. Robots are today’s modernization.

Modernizing has its costs. Jim’s Grandfather Reddish was in the horse tack business, and went broke in the ‘20s when a Ford Model T could be purchased in Albia for $250. That was about the cost an Albian would otherwise pay for harnesses and the like. Henry Ford used the assembly line, to put a car in every garage, and upped his employees’ pay to five dollars a day so they could afford to buy his cars.

Grocery shopping in “the olden days” was simple. My mother phoned in her order to Kaul’s Grocery during the day; a clerk collected the items, and in the afternoon, a driver would deliver the order and unload it onto her kitchen counter. Kaul’s offered charge accounts.

Mr. Bezos’ plans for his new groceries are home delivery of fresh produce and meats, other groceries and even complete meals.

Laundry back then was labor intensive. First, the housewife filled the wringer Maytag and its two galvanized rinse tubs with water, put small loads through the wringer and into the tubs, then hauled clothes basket full of wet clothes, and pinned the wash into clothes lines. The scent of sun- and wind-dried laundry was much prized; I thought it smelled like straw. Rinso White’s jingle, “Happy little washday song,” wasn’t really that happy.

Ironing was an all-day chore for Tuesday. It was eased by drip-dry items, no--wrinkle fabrics and fabric softener in the dryer, also a labor-saving wonder.

Yesteryear’s kitchen also benefitted from modernization. Mixes were developed for cakes, cookies and muffins. Moist cake yeast was replaced individual packets of dry yeast, and eventually, a cook could find frozen bread dough in the grocer’s freezer. It was a joy when refrigerated, ready-to-use pie crusts replaced the challenge of rolling pins.

Learning everyday skills was more of a challenge. I learned to sew with a treadle sewing machine; the needle didn’t move - forward or back - unless the treadle was at work. And early driving lessons were in a 1936 Plymouth, with clutch and the original four-on-the-floor gear shift. That took real concentration and coordination. The dimmer switch was on the floor, and the turn indicator was a left-hand extended through an open window.

Jim estimates it would have taken nearly 16 hours to mow our yard with a human-powered push mower, half that time the machine was a gas-powered pusher. Today he can whiz through the entire lawn in about an hour, thanks to his riding lawn mower.

Every day, we learn of something new (to us) using robots. Androids can play chess and paint pictures. Fast food is revolutionized by robots connected to computers which can grill burgers, turn them when ready, and pop them into a bun when cooked. Some intricate surgeries are performed better and faster than with human docs, which sounds about as risky as self-driving cars or self-flying planes.

A scare headline in Sunday’s Register read, “In a world where robots do our jobs, what will we do?”

My guess: some of us will probably invent things that make today’s “modern” look as quaint and stodgy as hoop skirts. Who ever expected airplanes or television except a few loony visionaries?

Luckily, we still have loony visionaries today.

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