Monday, April 07, 2003

Here is a historical public service announcement: To do lists are a new development.

There, don't you feel better?

It's true. Universal literacy only has a couple centuries history. Widespread timepieces are no older than the 19th century. Time management only developed in the last half of the last century, and only in the last quarter of it did anyone start thinking everyone should do it. That's what managers were for -- to figure out what the workers should do when.

Before that, humans basicly responded to external signals when deciding what to do. It's warming up? Time to plant. Might check where the shadow of that big rock is hitting for confirmation, or the phase of the moon. Things are ripe? Harvest them. Roof leaks? Fix it. Planning meant doing things in their own time.

Even agriculture is only a few tens of thousands of years old. Before that, it was: hungry? go find food.

Now, millions of people schedule by the hour. They make to do lists and schedule meetings and arrive to the minute. This is what they mean by the accelerating pace of modern life. It's happened over decades, which is slowly enough that it seldom draws our attention. But over decades, in the history of humanity, is astonishly fast. And it's amazing how many people have moved along with it.

Now every man and every woman is an autonomous planning unit. Any single person can look ahead, choose a goal, and begin the step by step process that leads to a new community center, a novel, a new business, a piece of legislation. Smaller goals like creating a garden or redecorating a room or saving for a vacation are almost routine.

Some of us do, some of us don't. And that's fine.

But think how much stronger an economy is when every person can create -- when each point can begin an expansion, and not only the the top.

That is why power to the people, and not only the leaders, is good business. And that is why, over time, the apparent chaos of a democracy outproduces the apparent efficiency of a dictatorship.

And that is why my patriotism applauds diversity.