Ever since Adam and Eve took a look at that apple, humans have been consumed by the need to know more, to have more, and fundamentally to ‘be’ more. But with that drive for omniscience comes the fear that like our biblical mum and dad, we might just end up losing everything the very second we realise how absolutely essential it all is. The fear that we’ll either implode or burn out, has been a staple part of our cultural diet since we realised we were sentient beings. Author Umberto Eco infamously said “we make lists because we don’t want to die.” Listing things helps make them substantial, nicely itemised just in case the Heavenly Judges ever try to challenge our rights of ownership. And so this recent survey from Harris Interactive isn’t just a list of those things we humans can’t live without. It’s an interim, not-quite-last, Will and Testament... Not to be dramatic about it.
Harris Interactive conducted this survey with a view to establishing the centrality of technology in our day to day lives, which might explain the limits of their questions. The survey offered participants a finite selection of options, and asked them to decide whether they could live without them either for a few days, for more than a week, or if they simply could not live without the item at all. This survey tells us a few things, right off the bat: A few glaring and perhaps unforgivable omissions suggest we, as a society, have evolved so far beyond ourselves that our megalomania now extends to assuming we don’t need air to breathe or water to drink. At least, not compared to the absolute imperative of a tablet computer. The study is also representative of the fact that hyperbole has at last instantiated itself into national study as a legitimate mark on the scientific measuring stick. Unless we’re to believe that the participants of this survey genuinely believe they would expire and return to dust in the absence of a car. In short, there are some serious semantic issues with Harris Interactive’s parameters.
But still, the socio-scientific worthiness of the survey is almost irrelevant given that it speaks so loudly to the zeitgeist of the moment. In our blink-and-you’ll-miss-it culture, this list will probably be, one day soon, a historical artefact. For right now though, courtesy of the 2,210 adults who looked up from their smart phones long enough to complete the questionnaire, here are the top ten items we’d just die without. No, literally.
10 Social Networks: 7% Couldn’t Live Without
If, at first glance, you think this item is cause for hope because it surely proves we remember we are social creatures, that we need our family and our community, then you must be the naive luddite they didn’t ask to join in the survey. This item refers not to social outings with fellow social animals; rather, it refers to the online community, designed to ensure we can have as little as possible to do with one another in the real world - Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Linkedin. You get the picture. Or if you don’t, look for it on Tumblr. Pin it if you like.
9 Navigation System: 8% Couldn’t Live Without
Navigation systems are wonderful. There’s no question that in our age of travel this sort of device is eminently functional. But number 9 on a list of things that we would cease to exist without might seem hyperbolic to some. Remember when we could stop the car, roll down the window, and just ask a passing local where the store was? With words, and maybe some eye contact. And then there were those maps. Not the Google kind - the ones made from paper! Not anymore. Now, it's a satellite navigation system that makes the difference between life and death for 8% of Americans, according to this survey.
8 Sex: 20% Couldn’t Live Without
20% of those surveyed felt they couldn’t live without sex. Logically, this is a very sensible position to take. To that 20% - the future of mankind is in your nymphomaniacal hands. Setting aside the possible decline of the human species, it’s perhaps encouraging for fans of monogamy that this option is significantly lower down the list than the ‘spouse’ option. Although, America's divorce statistics are making a bit of an opposing racket somewhere in the background.
7 Television: 23% Couldn’t Live Without
The mind boggles. This one is just silly. If we put aside our hankies and stop weeping over the decline of the theatrical arts, we really have to ask - hasn’t anyone among this 23% had a chat with the 7% who know the value of social networks? Given the fact the TV has a home on the internet now (thanks, Netflix), perhaps this almost-quarter ought to be little more pragmatic about their life-time essentials.
6 Mobile Phone: 26% Couldn’t Live Without
One generation ago, landline telephones were owned by only a handful of people. It was an event to make one’s debut in the phonebook. But then, that was before we all started scattering ourselves to the four corners of the world, without so much as a tear at the airport departure gates. Now the easy communication we enjoy thanks to the mobile phone really has made freedom that little bit more attainable. That said, anyone who has ever seen any horror film ever will know that in an actual life or death situation, a mobile phone will never help you. Can’t live without them. Can’t live with them.
5 Internet Access: 28% Couldn’t Live Without
Once upon a time, in a land not that far away, lived whole communities of people with no access to the internet. These people lived, breathed, bred. And, in many parts of the world, they still do. Survival, without internet access, has been proven possible by generations before us and by our fellow man today in other parts of the world. So it's suddenly very apparent that this is a First World survey - and a selective one at that. One would think, with all that internet access, we'd all be a little less oblivious to the rest of the world... Despite what this 28% think, it actually is possible to live without the internet; but we agree it's probably makes life a little less convenient...
4 Computer / Laptop / Tablet: 30% Couldn’t Live Without
It’s rather surprising to find ‘computer’ anywhere other than top on this list. While the idea of fatal loss remains a bit of an overshoot for anything on this list, the world would probably come to a fairly drawn out halt if we didn’t have computers. These are some pretty great inventions though. And the plus side of the pre-eminence of all these devices, is that there are no more excuses for not finishing that assignment just because you were on a long haul flight from your port of emigration back to grandmother's funeral. You have a tablet now. You are a machine.
3 Car: 42% Couldn’t Live Without
Yes. This makes sense. Cars are important. The ‘wheel’ is globally acknowledged as the beginning of inventions that made a difference. Of course, irony is never far away in our self-styling as Icarus. The closer we are to the sun, the more burned we get. And cars might be getting us further, quicker. But there’s only so long we can ignore that enormous hole opening up in the fabric of the ozone layer.
2 Spouse: 45% Couldn’t Live Without
Incredibly, this is one of only two items on this list that have the remotest thing to do with direct interpersonal relations. Cynicism aside though, it’s nothing short of lovely to see that almost half of us couldn’t live without our spouse. No surveys yet on what proportion of these participants based their answer on financial or domestic imperative. So, for the moment, ignorance remains bliss and this be read as a soul-feeding corroboration of human emotion. Hey Hallmark, any comments?
1 Food: 73% Couldn’t Live Without
This is not remarkable. Of course food is number one. What begs questioning is quite how the remaining 27% of participants managed they’d survive their car-driving, internet-accessing, sex-filled days. Suggestions on a post-card please.
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