It has been a long time since I was in school—so long, in fact, that it was still called “junior high school” instead of “middle school” like it is today. Because it has been a while, I don’t remember every single detail of what went on during those days. I remember a lot of the teachers, some of the classes, a few of the events, and of course, all of the girls I had crushes on. Other than that, it’s mostly a blur.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day
However, one thing I do remember was reading the sci-fi short story by Isaac Asimov called It’s Such a Beautiful Day. In the story, technology has progressed to the point where people use something called a “Door” (capital “D”) to travel in a way that was similar to Star Trek’s transporter beam. The characters had stopped using regular doors (lowercase “d”) to venture outside because that was considered a fate worse than death due to the germs, dirt, rain, mud, etc. You get the picture. Going outside was to be avoided at all costs, which was easy when you could simply step into your Door and be instantaneously transported to another Door. Then, it happened.
One day, the Door in the home of 12-year-old Richard Hanshaw Jr. suffered a malfunction due to a broken “field-modulator brake-valve” (you have to love 1950’s sci-fi terminology). This catastrophe forced poor, young Richard to use the regular door to get to school. The problem was that once Richard took that first step outside, he enjoyed what he didn’t know he had been missing.
After that, he began using the regular door on a daily basis. Soon, he stopped going to school, came home late, and a couple of times, he even had traces of dirt and mud on his clothes (gasp). Before long, school staff and his mother were seriously concerned that he had suffered some sort of mental breakdown because of these outside journeys. In an attempt to discover the cause of this unusual neurosis, a psychologist reluctantly agreed to go outside with him to investigate.
By the end of the story, the doctor was no longer concerned and explained to Richard’s mother that nothing was wrong with him. The doctor came around to Richard’s way of thinking, and instead of taking the Door himself when it was time to leave, he exclaimed, “You know, it’s such a beautiful day that I think I’ll walk.”
The Importance of Work Breaks
When I read that story as a boy, I couldn’t believe how dumb it sounded. It seemed to me that even if there was technology that could someday transport you like the “Doors” in the story, no one would ever favor it over the sheer joy of being in the great outdoors. The “Door” would certainly be a great time saver, but in the end, people would always prefer the natural beauty around them instead of being enslaved by technology.
That thought abruptly came back to me the other day when I was walking down the sidewalk and got shoulder slammed by someone whose attention was on their smartphone instead of looking where they were going. It made me realize that the very scenario I had scoffed at in junior high was now being played out in everyday life. This got me to thinking about other similar scenarios as well. How many times have parents taken electronic entertainment away from their kids only to be greeted with screams of anguish exclaiming, “What will I do now? I’m so bored!” As adults, we aren’t much better when you consider just how easy it is to immerse ourselves in technology whether for work or entertainment.
To read this entire column, which appeared in the March 2019 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.