Right now I’m listening to Beethoven’s second symphony on my computer. There are probably about 100 people who contributed to that recording, thinking just in terms of the people sitting there with their instruments. Then there’s the person who recorded the piece. Of course there’s also the composer, but he died a long time ago. And there are the people who made the code that enables my computer to translate the zeros and ones into music. Then there are the people who made my computer, and my earphones, and the people who keep my internet connection up and running. The people who manage the power grid and make sure I have electricity so that I can play the piece without my computer shutting down because of power failure (in case the battery in it, which someone also made, needed to be recharged). I’m sitting in a room that is brightly lit. I don’t know who made the two lamps I have turned on right now, nor do I know who made sure the lamps were transported to a place close to me so that I could buy them, but I’m grateful that they did all that work.
I’m not in need of food at the moment – I had dinner a few hours ago, and I’m sure more people were involved in getting the stuff I ate from a) to b) than I’d like to think about; for one thing, people don’t grow bananas in Denmark in January. I would have gotten sick from eating the banana if I hadn’t been able to take medicine to help my body process the carbohydrates; I’m sure a lot of people were involved both in developing the medicine, producing it, and transporting it to a pharmacy close to where I live, so that I have access to it and am able to use it to keep my illness from killing me. If they didn’t do that work I’d die, so of course I’m grateful.
It’s not cold in my appartment – it’s a pleasant temperature, and it’s not really because of anything I did. Oh yes, there’s a thermostat I can adjust, true, but that wouldn’t really be worth a lot if the people who currently work on making sure that heat is produced and moved around stopped doing what they do. Part of why I’m not cold is that I’m wearing clothes. My t-shirt was made on a different continent thousands of kilometres away. The place where I currently live is not exactly new, and I didn’t build it. Other people did, in the past. I think there were a lot of people involved, because it’s a big building and they’ve used a lot of different materials once you start to have a closer look. Someone made a big window so that even though I’m inside, I can look out and see what’s going on outside. Or I can decide not to, by closing the curtains someone made at some point and had other people transport to a shop near where I live, where I was able to buy them. I say ‘near’ where I live, but it’s not really – if I had to walk on my own two feet, it would have taken me more than an hour to get to the shop. I don’t recall which mode of transportation I used instead, which is in itself rather interesting – there are so many different ones (parents’ car, bicycle, bus?) that it’s hard to keep track of how you’ve gotten around.
I’m sitting down on a chair, which is nice. It’s much better than standing up or sitting down on the floor. I wonder how many people were involved in the process of producing the chair, transporting it, selling it… The same questions could be asked about the table the computer is standing on.
The hot food I got before I ate the banana wasn’t always hot. Some of it used to be very cold, it was taken from the freezer. You know, the thing most people own and that they use to put stuff in to keep it cold, even though it’s actually quite cold outside, so that the food can stay fresh much longer and won’t spoil – the thing that was made on some factory far away, much farther away than I could have travelled in a week if I had to walk there. Of course I didn’t heat up the food by starting a fire in my kitchen – for one thing, someone has made a smoke alarm which is set up quite close to my kitchen so that would not have worked very well. No, I used a stove which someone somewhere has made so that people like me can heat up the food I take out of my other machine keeping it cold until it needs to be heated up. And I didn’t eat the food with my hands – well, in a way I did, but I also used a knife, which is probably made in some other country, and a fork – which is also likely made in some other country.
I’m not worried about being unable to locate a source of potable water in case I get thirsty soon. This is because from where I sit I have less than 10 metres to a sink and a faucet, out of which I can make water come out – almost as if by magic. I don’t know the people who make sure that the pipes are clean and that the water is not contaminated with bugs I wouldn’t even be able to see if they were in the water, or perhaps toxins and/or heavy metals which could also easily make me sick; I sort of take it for granted that water comes out of the faucet when I want it to and that I’ll not get sick from drinking it. Not only that – I take it for granted that I have control over the temperature of the water.
I think people radically underestimate how much their continued existence, to speak nothing of ‘the kind of life they lead at this point’, depends upon people whom they have never even met.
On a related note I generally feel like crap this time of year – the exam periods really have included many of the worst times of my life. But there’s stuff to be grateful for. Stuff to keep remembering. Thoughts like these make it a bit harder for me to feel sorry for myself. I don’t want to feel sorry for myself – in my experience it only if anything tends to make things worse.