Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Into the Sunset

I can see a national identity crisis looming for the United States. Well, there may be a number of ways that sentence could be interpreted, but I'm going for one that isn't entirely obvious. In case you haven't noticed, we're not an agrarian society anymore. Oh growing and selling plant crops is still a big business with lots of money to be made, but only 4% of the US workforce is employed in farming. It can be said that we take our bounty for granted, and many citizens of the United States do just that, but in the long run, we've got a very secure system set up that should be in good shape for the years to come.

So what?

Well this topic began rumbling around in my head because of NBC's announcement that it will forgo the traditional television schedule and run new programming year round. This could be a result of the recent writer's strike leaving them with an off-kilter production schedule, but recent trends seem to be heading in the year-round television direction, anyway. If people are watching and advertisers are willing to pay for time on these channels, why not make some extra money? That's what this world is all about anyway, right?

How does this relate to farming?

Why did we have the summer off from new TV in the first place? At network television's inception, the United States economy (not to mention most of its populace) ran on agriculture. People were in the fields from before sun-up to after sun-down and sleeping whenever they weren't working. There was no time for the frivolities of television (with the possible exception of men walking on the moon and Monday Night Football). At the time there were also less advertising revenues and it was actually cheaper not to produce new shows. It seems that the major TV networks are finally waking up to the reality of culture and embracing our post-agrarian society.

That's great and all, but it's not exactly an identity crisis, is it?

Not really, but it does portend what will undoubtedly be a wave of similar adjustments. Why did we all get three months off every summer to torment our parents? We had the time off so we could work on the farm without falling behind in our schooling. Even in places where agriculture is still vital to the local economy, the time required of minors to help on the farm is usually reduced to a couple of weeks in the fall. If you add in the drastic failure of US children to keep up with the intellectual prowess of the rest of the world, it's only a matter of time until our nation decides, "our education system is working right, so let's do even more of the same," and gives us truly year-round schooling.

We've seen Daylight Savings Time expand three extra weeks this year. This would be the reverse result. Initially DST was introduced to give farmers more time with sunlight to work the fields, but now we've come to realize that everybody likes more sunlight, no matter what they do to supply their livelihood (that sentence was intentionally awkward so as to include one of my favorite words to type, but I'll let you guess which one it is).

The point is that, in a nation that has always associated itself with hard work and self-reliance, we're just too interdependent to live like farmers anymore. We have to change, adapt, align ourselves with a new reality. Who knows where else this shift might rear its frightening head? Just don't be surprised when you see it.

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