If these lines reoccur from time to time, it is only because life itself seems to repeat.

The machine is the aquamagic. It is largely automatic, but sometime in the first half of the 20th century, the inventor or marketers decided it was more magic than matic. Anyone who has washed more than a few dozen eggs the old-fashioned way can’t help but agree. Magic.

The concept is this: On one end, (the pitching side we call it), a farmhand dips an egg in soapy water and places it on a conveyor belt with egg-sized slots, keeping an eye out for cracks. The egg is fed through the egg-o-magic where it is frisked by a series of rolling brushes and then spat out the other end, where a second worker proceeds to sort the scrubbed ovals. Then repeat 1,000 times/day. The average duo can leisurely wash and sort 100 dozen eggs and hour.

It’s the only way we can produce as many dozens of eggs as we do. But what does it do to the human? This, like many tasks in the two centuries or so since the industrial revolution, does not tap into the gifts of the individual.

Take the catching end of the egg-o-magic, dubbed the “smart” side. Instead of the pitching end which only requires the user to distinguish cracked or not, the catcher must decide between one of four options:

  1. Store carton quality. Clean. No cracks. No stains. Perfectly shaped.
  2. Restaurant quality. Light staining or abnormal shapes are acceptable.
  3. Home quality. For the crew. Hairline cracks and heavy staining okay.
  4. Pig quality. Everything else.

This is a surprisingly difficult task. Distinguishing within what is a full spectrum of egg quality, is always relative to the sorter. With eggs going by and beginning to pile up, there is no time for contemplation. A place is chosen, and it’s on to the next egg. The next person could draw the lines in very different places.

In farming we are constantly calibrating our opinions of the quality and appearance of our products with each other. Even so, we each see the world in a unique and specific way. Try as we may, we will always have different opinions and different views. Even on eggs.

But this is the point. It is not about eggs. Or the size of a bunch of beets. It is a question about what we are encouraging in the populous. When we encourage repetitive tasks, we discourage creativity. And arguably, we decrease precision and productivity.

I, for one, become less productive as I repeat the same motion without engaging my intellect. I remember busy Saturdays at the bakery where I worked in Oregon. I knew it was time to take a break when my repetitive motion of putting an egg on a roll and tossing out the wax paper we used reversed itself and I began to absent-mindedly toss the eggs in the garbage.

We often “zone-out”, “space-out” or get lost in our heads. When we engage our citizens in “mindless” work, we create a habit of introversion. The “free trade in ideas” of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. seems to becoming less and less of a valued commodity, at least among the labor class.

The technological advances that were developed by creative freedoms should, and can allow time for all of the people of the world to continue to enrich our communities with innovation. We have the minds, surely we can figure a way to encourage their use.

Maybe things would seem less scrambled.

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