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Monday, April 4, 2011

Washing Machine Evolution: Embracing Ease

For some reason, today I remembered a song we used to sing in grade school that declared Monday was "wash day". I think it was a song cleverly disguised to teach us French, but what I remember is that certain days of the week had assigned tasks- Monday being laundry day. I don't remember the French word for laundry, or for Monday, but I do remember that apparently, I should be doing the wash today!

The thing is- I don't have a specific day to do the wash. I don't know anyone that does. That's not to say there aren't people out there that do, just not in my circle of friends. For most of us, everyday and any day is laundry day thanks to the wonderful evolution of the washing machine.

I don't know the historical path of the machine, but I have a clear picture in my mind. I see the invention as very "male driven". I can imagine a guy coming up to a group of women washing clothes in a river. I figure he decided he could invent something that would elevate him in their eyes. Perhaps it was the washboard and he thought they could save their hands a bit. Then another man came along years later and decided it would be a fun challenge to make a container to do it in etc. etc. I envision men hiding out in huts, basements and garages with all kinds of tools and devices in a wonderful puzzle of trial and error to create something for the "women folk". I'm sure women ignored them for quite awhile, happy that they were entertained with their project. The man who decided to combine both electricity and water was probably very adventuresome indeed. I can see a few men making this their life goal- to create a machine that would wash clothes and make women's lives easier. I imagine they got a lot of satisfaction, perhaps even fame and fortune from the success of their projects.

I remember a ringer washing machine in our house. I also remember a later model that involved a hose that had to be hooked up to the kitchen faucet. Washing was still an event, because you had to pull out the machine, hook it up to the sink- stop all other "water activity" and move the clothes through the process. It made washing easier I suppose but there was quite a bit of work involved in set up and take down and if you didn't balance the clothes just right you had a bit of a kitchen floor flood. I seem to remember that the clothes were still hung on the line so all this had to take place on a fine sunny day. Then men got a hold of that flaw! They probably got disgusted dragging out the machine or thought it was totally ridiculous to only do wash on a sunny day. The machines continued to evolve. Now, we hardly think about doing the wash. It is no longer an event. You throw in clothes and do something else, go back at some time- doesn't matter when, throw them in another machine and carry on with your life.

But I think back to those women in the river. In my mind at least, they are there as a group. If it's a nice sunny day, you gather up your friends and make a day of it- going down to the river with the wash. You talk and laugh and share stories while absently scrubbing those clothes. You got some Wise Woman knowledge and shared some personal insights. Probably you talked a bit about the men in your life. Not is a "dissing" sort of way- but a cathartic way. Maybe you smiled at how they were in the shed trying to build some crazy machine. My point is, while you were working, you were also in the bright sunshine, with a group of friends, sharing the experience and feeling good about those wonderfully fresh smelling, clean clothes and the accomplishment of having spent the day "doing the wash".

For years, I worked at home as a private consultant. I often worked on the phone and on-line with a friend in a different part of the country. For some reason it seemed whenever we were talking on the phone, working on a project, one or both of us, was also doing the laundry. We often heard the other person's clothes going round and round, or the dryer buzzer go off, the door open and close. We laughed at how often that happened and prided ourselves on our ability to multi-task. We both agreed that one of the benefits of working from home was that we could get so many things done at once. We even congratulated ourselves for seeing the other side of life, as I was working on "male-orientated" risk management projects with him, and he was doing his family's laundry, considered by some as a "traditional female task".

Today I see such multi-tasking through a different lens. I'm no longer so proud of my ability to accomplish multiple things at the same time. I can remember how tired I was, how stressed and distracted I felt. I was so disconnected.

I'm still happy with the people (I'm sure women are now involved in the process!) who invented and continue to improve the washing machine and dryer. This use of technology has afforded me a lot of freedom. But now, I'm going to exercise that freedom. Instead of throwing in a load of wash and doing something else, I think I should put in a load of wash, sit down and relax in the knowledge that I don't have to scrub those clothes. Rather than create more work for myself, I should appreciate the time that has been created for me to do something I enjoy. We need to embrace the ease that technology brings to our lives, not fill our lives with more tasks to do.

So here's my request for the next advancement to the washing machine. When I put a load of clothes in the machine and shut the lid, I want a compartment to open up automatically that hands me the car keys, my shoes, and a ten dollar bill. The machine will turn off all other devices in the house, and an arm will gently guide me out of the house so that I can't break down and do something else. Once out the door, the door will lock and I won't be able to go back in until the clothes are done. My machine will be synced with all my friends machines so they are propelled to do the same thing at the same time. We will all meet in our favorite cafe and use the ten dollar bill to buy a really good cup of coffee. If it's sunny, we will sit outside in the sun,or go for a walk with our coffees. Maybe we'll walk down to the river! If it's raining, cold, or snowing we will sit inside the cafe, by the fireplace, in comfortable chairs. We will recreate the storytelling, the cathartic conversation, the laughter and camaraderie of the river bank without having to wash the clothes at the same time. We will be safe and secure in the knowledge that our lives have been made easier so we can enjoy the company of our friends more.

We will toast that first man that ever intruded on the women washing clothes and the ease that has been brought into our lives.

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