On being average…
In my current line of work, I have the fortunate opportunity to repair all kinds of electronics; everything from high-end switches and data servers to blood analyzers and personal computers. I was recently tasked with repairing a relatively simple problem on someone’s personal laptop. I don’t get to repair these very often and was surprised when I was provided their personal login password. I was granted full access – and I mean full access – to this persons computer and all of their data including pictures, email address, birthday, where they went to college and when they graduated, where they live, what kind of relationship they’re in, where they’ve travelled to, what kind of parties they attended, what games they play, what movies they watch (and torrent), what podcasts they listen to… on and on! But here’s the thing, I didn’t ‘hack’ this person’s computer looking for personal information. I wouldn’t do that. Ever. I didn’t even go *looking* for these things. I simply noticed most of them just in passing while I was trying to solve the repair issue. A few things struck me though while I was trying to nail down the computer problem.
The first thing is people’s willingness to freely hand over personal information whether due to confidence in the destination or simple ignorance. Maybe they trusted the company they sent it to for repairs so much that they didn’t think hiding sensitive information was necessary. There’s a few problems with this though. How could they have known where it would ultimately end up? Most computer repairs are handled by a third-party company, not the original company they took it to. Also, human beings still work at these companies. I consider myself to have high morals – at least I try to. I don’t do things to others that I wouldn’t want done to me. But not everyone is like that. There are some dubious folks out there and this laptop could’ve landed in their hands. Who knows what could have happened then? Or maybe this person didn’t even think about it – or cared! Whatever the reason, we should all be a little more careful about what kind of information we share and who we share it with no matter how much you trust them. I know I share too much. Of course, I don’t post my credit card information or other data on that level, but even the most seemingly innocent bit of information could be used against us. But I try not to do anything I wouldn’t want others to know about anyway. I guess I just put my trust in statistics. I won’t go into the details here but the fact is, there are far more good people out there than bad. I just hope the information I do share lands in the hands of the good folks.
The other thing that hit me – the main reason for writing this – was a bit more personal. As I inadvertently got to know this person I began to sympathize with them. We listen to the same podcasts, played similar video games, our ages were similar, our friends *looked* the same… Those pictures could have been mine. My face could easily be in those pictures. I could have been at that party. In fact, I have pictures that look practically identical in a shoebox at home. It just made me realize how huge the world is and how many stories are playing out on a daily basis. It made me feel so small and practically inconsequential. I could have been this person. I AM that person. There is no difference between me and this person who lives halfway across the country. We’re just two out of a couple hundred million people in this country alone, not to mention the billions of people all over the world! And I won’t even start to count the people who have came and went over the millennia.
All of this brings me to the question: do the things we do really mean anything? And I’m asking this from the perspective of the average person. Specifically, from my perspective I guess. I mean, I’m a very average guy; I’m a married middle aged white male from the Midwest of America with a mid-level degree making a very average wage with two kids and an average sized house. How many times did I say ‘mid’ or ‘average’ in that last sentence? We’re raised in this country to believe we can be anything we want, the sky’s the limit and we’re truly special, but I’m not so naive to think I’m anything more than average. Objectively, most of us are. I mean, that’s the very definition of the word – most of us literally make up the average! (Not technically, but you know what I mean.)
I’ve said before about how I sometimes struggle to not only find meaning and purpose in life, but to even find a reason to do some of the most common daily tasks. And again, I’m not so naive to think that I’m the first person to have these feelings and to go through these emotions and try to find my place in the world. Really, that’s the greatest question of mankind and it has been asked and contemplated since time immemorial. I’m not trying to pretend like I’m going to actually answer it here. I’ll tell you what though, writing things down, methodically working things out, and breaking up these huge questions into compartmentalized pieces makes handling these weighty issues much more manageable.
Why should I care that I’m not changing the world? Why should I care that I’m not reaching a potential that puts me above average? Why should I worry about this at all? I guess an argument can be made that by being even just barely above average pushes the total average up just a tick. And by moving the average up, the entire human race continues to improve. But that’s pretty minor inspiration. Humans need more than that. Most humans have an innate urge to want to contribute, to be a part of something. I guess by being above average quantifies your contribution and can fulfill that need to a certain extent. Either way, that still doesn’t validate any one person’s contribution. It doesn’t make my particular life meaningful. Or, essential.
I explained all of this to my wife today (how we’re all meaningless) and she said, ‘yeah, but not to each other,’ and I think she may have hit the nail right on the head. The world is remarkably big and there’s a humanly-unfathomable amount of people on this planet – there’s simply no way a human brain can truly grasp how many people there are, how many lives are being lived, how many stories are playing out right now. Each of us are just one crackle in the white noise of history. But maybe what makes us so meaningful, what gives weight to our lives, is what we are to the immediate people around us. Our kids, our wives and husbands, our fathers and mothers, our friends, their friends, our teachers and policemen… These people are you and me. I’m your computer repair person. And you’re my doctor, or the person who sells me my house. Or the person who drives a truck across country to deliver some stupid thing I bought off of the internet. I guess we are all part of an intricately woven web. Sure, everyone doesn’t need every piece to exist, but we all need certain pieces – very special pieces, supporting pieces – to exist. Those pieces are your family, your village or your town. You mean a lot to them.
Even though I’m only one of many billions of people, there’s a sort-of quiet comfort in that anonymity. It kind of takes the pressure off, you know? It lets the beer go down a little easier at night when I haven’t changed the world. I’ve found that by believing in the back of my mind that I’ve actually lived a relatively full life by accomplishing most things that today’s society has outlined for us – despite me not ‘changing the world’ – and keeping my mind focused on smaller tasks I can accomplish, and most importantly staying engaged with the people around me, I can achieve a happiness at least on par with ‘contentness.’
What’s more average than that?