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Doctrine of unintended consequences

March 17, 2016  By Ian Robinson

Every time I find myself horrified with the world, it’s because of a little something called The Doctrine of Unintended Consequences.

When people try to make the world a better place … it doesn’t seem to work out.

It’s why whenever I get the urge to make the world a better place … I take to my bed with a good book and a bottle of bourbon until the urge passes.

I still have flashbacks from a visit to an all-you-can-eat buffet in Orange County once.


I was doing my best as a dad to nudge my son out of the food groups to which he naturally gravitated.

To wit: Brown things: Colas and fried foods.


Fluorescent things: Candy and frozen treats dyed so they looked like work-out outfits from the 1980s.

I sent him—then about nine—to the salad bar.

He returned with a plate of nachos covered in bright orange molten cheese goo, of the type you can also use for roofing your house. In his other hand, he had a plate of fried chicken wings.

He saw the look on my face. And froze in his tracks.

I … um … have this look. I got pretty hefty eyebrows if I forget to keep ’em hacked back. I usually sport some facial hair and I’ve put some hard living on the odometer so I’ve got some lines on my face.

I like to think they add character.

My wife says that’s only if you think “character” is a synonym for “man who looks like middle-aged honky thug.”
As a parent, it’s a good thing I have this face because inside I’m about as tough as soft-serve ice cream.

My kid saw the look.

Normally, he’d pause but he just got this big old grin. “You gotta see this salad bar,” he said.

I stepped past him. The salad bar included: Chicken wings, nachos, kielbasa fried with onions, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, pasta salad, spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread.

And, oh yeah: Two ice cream stations.

Which all went a certain distance to explaining why the nine-year-old girl who lumbered past me en route to the ice cream “salad” outweighed me by a good 30 pounds.

Some marketing guy figured it out. Americans will feel better about themselves if they eat more salad. But Americans don’t like salad. But if we reclassified chicken wings and spaghetti in meat sauce as salad?

Freaking evil genius, is all that was.

It’s not just food where things go horribly wrong. Take technology.

I have always been what they call “an early adopter” of technology.

I owned a personal computer in 1984.

It was an Apple IIC and to give you a sense of what the tech was like, the stand that supported the monitor was made out of cast iron — the same stuff as a decorative fence. A horse shoe. An old-school tire iron.

Seriously. If you’d been really angry with someone and swung it in a big arc, you could have left a serious dent in somebody’s skull. I’m surprised it was never featured as a murder weapon on Murder, She Wrote or Matlock.

Try that with an iPhone.

Go ahead. I’ll wait. You’ll be lucky if you leave a bruise.

There were about six million Apple IIs sold over 17 years, so it’s not like there was one in every home, ya know?
When friends visited our apartment for the first time and got the little tour newlyweds give of their first-ever place together, there was one part of the tour that wowed folks.

Stopped them in their tracks and inspired a good half-hour of conversation when my wife would gesture them into the spare room where I kept my desk and would say, “And this … this is the computer.”

People would look at me like I was some kind of MIT graduate or something, the way a South Seas islander would look at the first European who turned up and shot one of them with a musket.

“What insane manner of magic is this?”

There wasn’t even an internet yet.

I used my Apple to write on.

And there were a couple games, Space Invadery stuff.

I thought it was cool. I thought it was awesome.

It was the same era that somebody asked the boss of IBM what the practical use of a computer in the home was.
And his reply was something along the lines of, “Geez, I guess housewives could keep recipes on it, I guess.”

While IBM wasn’t thinking outside the workplace market, Apple promised us a better world. A world in which computers would unlock our creativity and unleash a new era of freedom upon the world, a super-democracy. It would transform the human race into something worthy of living in the digital Utopia.

And the computers got smaller and smaller and now they’ve turned into smart phones and they live in your front pants pocket.

But instead of a digital Utopia … everybody I know is watching cat videos. Those who aren’t watching cat videos are watching porn.

But Apple wasn’t wrong.

Technology is transforming the human race, but apparently it has nothing to do with how long you’re on your smart phone.

It’s what your smart phone’s on for how long.

New U.K. study shows men’s fertility rates are plummeting because smart phones throw enough heat to cook sperm and ultimately reduce the number of humans.

Which, in a world where chicken wings have made their way into the salad bar?

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

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