We went to the Science Museum on Monday. In Launch Pad, there are lots of hands-on activities for children. One of them starts with a big container with lots of lentils in it. You have to fill a bucket with lentils, then hoist the bucket up and along so it meets with a device that flips it over so that the lentils spill down a funnel into a tube and along a chute into another large container. From there there are two Archimedes screws linked together that, when you turn their handles, take the lentils into another funnel and down another tube into yet another large-ish container. From there, there are two conveyor belts with scoops attached that take the lentils up to another funnel, down another pipe and back into the first big container, where they can start the entire process again.
Around this closed system of lentil logistics were about fifteen children. Each of them was doing one of the jobs necessary to make the system work: filling buckets, turning handles, pulling ropes, pushing stubborn lentils down chutes and so on. There was no one ordering anyone about; each child was totally absorbed and content with their single job, and every job was filled (whenever anyone left to do something else, their place was immediately taken by another child).
It made me wonder how many tasks I’m engaged in that are ultimately pointless. And whether I really care that they’re ultimately pointless, so long as I’m fulfilled doing them. And what the human race could achieve if at least some of us were engaged in a system in which we’d each do tasks we enjoyed while actually working towards a non-pointless goal. Like, you know, avoiding mass extinction or something.