The definition of an ordinary life. Well, it depends of course on who you are, where you live and what you do. These factors affect what you eat, how you get around and something slightly more philosophical – how happy you are. An ordinary meal for a person living in Thailand will be a reserved for special nights out in the UK. Risking life and limb to cater for Dubai’s gluttonous appetite for skyscrapers would be seen as an impossibility for the ground dwelling Inuit populations of Greenland. There are a countless number of examples demonstrating how we differ from one another. It is our demographic that defines what we see as the norm. So where then, are we similar? Because it is our similarities that help us answer the question posed in the titled. Well to begin with, we are all life forms. And I refer to my GCSE biology for a useful mnemonic – MRS GREN: Movement, Respiration, Sensitivity, Growth, Reproduction, Excretion and Nutrition.
Apart from movement and nutrition, we are all pretty much identical. Sure, there are some people that are more actively reproducing…And some people that are taller than others. There are those that excrete more, both literally and metaphorically. In fact, some people emit so much hot air from their mouth that I wonder whether they were put together backwards…I digress…
I believe the fundamental parameters that control our way of living, are movement and nutrition. These two dictate what separates the rich from the poor, the powerful from the weak, and the ignorant from the knowledgeable. Ultimately, these two parameters can be influenced to a higher degree by us, and therefore help us to recognize what we mean by ordinary.
Let’s begin with nutrition. We are all human and generally speaking we need the same amounts of vitamins, minerals and various nutrients to sustain healthy bodily functions. Of course, this does depend on where you live and what you do for a living i.e. you’re requirement for various substances will depend on your lifestyle.
In the West, the lifestyle we seem to be living presents us with more time constraints than ever. This in turn prevents us from properly focusing our attention to where exactly we are getting these nutrients from.
We can be foolish and get all the energy we need from fast food and ready meals. We will however, without a shadow of a doubt, feel undernourished a short time after being constantly exposed to such foods. For instance, I could eat McDonalds three times a day and save a lot of time (while going well over my recommended intake of calories.) Not only would I gain weight – I’d also be lethargic, more susceptible to heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome and probably bad breath. Despite this, the consumption of ready meals is higher than it’s ever been. They may not be as bad as Maccy D’s, but I wouldn’t say they are a great deal better.
So instead let us consider what is deemed a decidedly less foolish route. Let me eat salads, fruits and vegetables. I’ll pick the finest eggs, the best meat and go organic. But…we face a problem. Although choosing good food like this works out perhaps a little more expensive, the issues besides the fissure now residing in your wallet are more concerning. Firstly, the fruit and veg we get are already a week old when they hit the supermarket. The food only has 40% of the nutrients it started with. When I throw it in the pan, I lose even more. While this healthier diet is not putting bad stuff in my body, it’s certainly not doing much good either! Secondly, and this is the crux of the matter in my opinion, is we lack TIME…
Do you really have time to faff around with slicing up veggies when you get back from work? Do you really want to go through all that washing up after the meal? We want to just get back, whip something together in a few minutes and plonk ourselves in front of the TV. Work was tough. So many meetings. Bloody reports. Maybe let off some steam in the gym, go out for a game of squash. Browse the internet. Write a useless blog…
We feel there are better, more productive things to get on with than cooking. I’m not going to deny that is exactly how I feel sometimes.
Sometimes there really isn’t enough time in the day. How often do we sit down and reflect on the learnings of the day? Do we ever give ourselves and opportunity to look after ourselves? Or are we always considering whether the time we have is being best utilised? We run around trying to make money. We use this money to buy materialistic objects, gadgets and gizmos – over what is actually good for us. We buy stuff and then we are forced to make the time to use it, read it, watch it, play it. We don’t have time for us. This is my, somewhat bleak view, of the typical Western lifestyle. Every city and town in Western Europe and the U.S.- it’s the same, everyone is always: ‘too busy’. We sometimes have the audacity to sneer at those that we feel are not doing anything with their life. The ones that take it easy and come what may. You know the ones I mean. They maintain a smile, and move around doing whatever comes their way. Always relaxed. Always…happy?
This running around like headless chickens. This has become our ordinary way of life. It is not a pretty picture. Perhaps you don’t live your life like this, and I apologise for being presumptive. But forgive me for assuming that you know at least one person that fits snugly in the profile I have woven.
And I sense this is not how we are supposed to live it.
Food is our fuel. It becomes us. We genuinely, literally, factually, exactly are what we eat. Nothing more. Nothing less. Why then, do some of us invest so much in electronic gismos but turn our noses up at the choice between organic free range and battery hen eggs. Our justification for choosing the latter is ‘because it’s cheaper, and they all come from the same place anyway.’ We need good food. We don’t need a new laptop. Not enough time? Make it. If we can make time to browse Facebook, 9GAG, YouTube and useless entries on WordPress, then we have time to spend an extra half hour in the kitchen. Invariably, this will require a change in our approach to the way we live.
A change we may not all be willing to embrace. One that would require planning. Reducing our ability to take spontaneous decisions such that our general lifestyle flexibility is diminished. A change that may be inconvenient, time consuming and sometimes tiring.
Let us now move onto the second parameter I felt was of importance in determining what an ordinary way of life is: movement. The movement of the earliest homosapiens have shaped, formed and developed humanity to the state it is now. Mobility is how we socialise, learn, earn, eat, and grow. The ability to move runs our very economy. We have countless ways of doing it. Crawling, walking, running, cycling, sailing, driving, flying, the list goes on. With the passage of time and technological advancements, the speed of our mobility and the range has continued to increase allowing us to develop further personally, educate ourselves more and so on and so forth. So, despite it being a simple part of our life, it is fundamental to life’s existence.
And we have become used to it haven’t we? The ability to just walk outside, hop into the car and drive to the destination that would have taken only 15 minutes to walk. Yet we rarely take the opportunity to walk. Again, the problem is time. Our way of life prevents us investing time in alternatives that we deem unnecessarily arduous.
For those that have made it this far in this entry, I’m sure you are expecting a connection with cars in some way or another. To avoid disappointment, I will now present the challenge we are facing in the automotive industry.
I am working on the manufacturing and design of hydrogen fuel cells for automotive applications (which will be covered in detail in my next blog.) The biggest issue I foresee for the commercialisation of this technology is not the reliability, the safety or indeed the method for obtaining hydrogen. The real barrier is changing the consumer lifestyle. We inevitably need to change the way we live if we are to use this tech. Despite the best efforts of engineers, we will not be able to operate the vehicle in the same way we do when we are using one with an internal combustion engine. We need people to accept this change and embrace it, at the moment we are (me included) are unwilling to even give it a go.
Let us use electric cars as example as they have been around for a while now. Why do we not see more of them? Of course cost is an issue. Yet people go around buying the combustion offerings of Mercedes, Audi, Range Rover and indeed Bentley. It’s a lifestyle choice, nothing more complex than that. It’s cool to go round town astride a Jaguar. A Leaf is too far down the food chain. And you have to wait an age to charge it. And you don’t get much range. And it’s a bit ugly.
I can’t disagree with the last one. But the first two certainly are based on our desire to have the maximum amount of flexibility and not to have to plan our day too much. We may know, for instance, that we’ve only got a few litres left in the tank. Yet we also know it will only take add an extra 10 minutes to my journey to fill it up. Our timetable can accommodate that delay. It cannot accommodate the delay associated with charging the car for 4 hours. I hear you say, ‘well we would need to plan for that!’ Of course you are right, but how many of us are willing to plan like that?
So you have sat here reading the stream of thoughts, wondering what the conclusion to all this is. Firstly, imminent change to our lifestyles is neither possible nor probable, it is inevitable. There will be those among us who will do their utmost to fight the change. They will try and corrupt the minds of those around them to slow the change, perhaps stalling it for a time. But it will happen. Be prepared to change how you live. And wherever possible, try to embrace it. It makes our lives as engineers that much easier – when we know there is one less challenge to overcome, the challenge of accommodating for unchanging people.
An ordinary way of life. Something we can all relate to is change. Changing the way we eat. Changing the way we move.
I leave you with a quote from Churchill:
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”
Embrace the change. It’s the ordinary thing to do.
Thanks for reading.