Willingdon Views

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Thursday, 29 June 2017 00:00

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Peaches and Plums

I penned this version of Willingdon Views from Slippery Rock, PA, in the heart of Amish country. With some irony, I wrote the first draft on my iPad, and then emailed it to our website design team for formatting and graphics. The final version will be stored on the cloud, so they tell me. Throughout this process I kept thinking about the simpler life of the Amish... 

Amazing and ever-changing technology makes writing a newsletter a very routine process for anyone, except perhaps the Amish, who tend not to embrace leading technologies, or at least they are not inclined to be as dependent on technology as the rest of us are. I wonder whether we will eventually reach a point where a simpler, more basic lifestyle will become more popular across mainstream society... 

On this note, by now I am sure everyone has heard about Amazon's bid to acquire Whole Foods. Since it is already possible to shop for groceries on-line, and even have personalized meals prepared and delivered to your door, I'm not sure what this much talked about combination brings to the table, so to speak. 

Today, there is no question that technology companies like Amazon, Apple, and Tesla are leading an endless push into more and more areas of everyday life. I'm not sure I like this trend. Actions by these leading companies affect a wide swath of domestic and international companies. For example, virtually all major auto manufacturers are working on driverless car technology in response to a perceived threat from Tesla. Who really wants a driverless car? I sure don't. 

Can technology go too far? When it does what can we do about it? 

Traditional grocery stores, in what has been a very competitive and low-margin business, are certainly under attack from Amazon, and some may not survive. Eventually, will our only option be to have our groceries selected for us by a robot in some enormous distribution center and delivered to our doorstep? Do we want this? 

When I was a young boy, long before email, iPads, and cloud computing, one of my favorite places to ride my bicycle to was TJ's Fruit Stand on South Caroline Street. TJ's sold the best fruit and vegetables in town, and moreover it was connected to Lovier's Dairy, which produced on-site, the best-tasting ice cream on the planet. Both were family-owned businesses offering unsurpassed quality and customer service.

WV internal fruit stand

Tony, the owner of TJ's, personally taught me how to pick out all kinds of fruit at the pinnacle of ripeness and flavor. He was a true craftsman who took pride in his products, and took great joy in sharing his knowledge with me. I listened intently to learn all his secrets. Under his watchful eye I would sort through the dark purple plums and golden red peaches to find the very best ones. Tony would nod and smile affirming my final selections. Amazon will never be able to replicate his invaluable personal touch. Actually, I would rather they not even try, as I still prefer to select my own produce, thank you very much... 

I guess I'm a dinosaur when it comes to driving a car, as well. While I still have most of my faculties I would rather steer, brake, accelerate, and decide when to pass the car in front of me, without computer intervention. 

Technological advancements never stop, but innovation doesn't always make things better. Worse over, technology is increasingly being developed and controlled by a few behemoths like the companies previously mentioned. Should we fear them becoming too powerful? Perhaps my ramblings beg this question - Are there aspects of life that need less technology? My biggest fear is that technology is becoming an insurmountable impediment to effective communication and relationship building. 

Just last week, the Republican senators unveiled their proposal for health care reform after deliberating behind closed doors. Not surprisingly, not one Democrat is expected to vote in favor of the proposed legislation. Much of the current political debate occurs via social media or through individual press releases. Technology, in a sense, allows for constant political posturing, hyperbole, and one-sided sound bites. What seems absent, in my view, is compromise, thorough and open dialogue, and accountability. For these guiding principles, technology is unnecessary, if not a hindrance. 

If both sides of Congress can't find common ground on important matters like health care and tax reform, the future of our country is suspect. Technology can't fix this problem. What can? 

Selfless leadership, based on solid principles, is the only path I see toward unifying our country. United we can solve any challenge. United we can achieve any worthwhile goal. 

I've long advocated for term limits, but maybe what we should try instead is to set aside a particular day for all congressmen to do their grocery shopping together. It might force them to actually talk to each other. As they sort through peaches and plums side by side, they might just learn to work together for the good of the country. I know, this is a silly idea, but given the path we are on, what do we have to lose? 

Michael Kayes, CFA

4 comments

  • Comment Link David L Schmolly Sunday, 02 July 2017 00:05 posted by David L Schmolly

    MIKE,
    I live a few miles from Slippery Rock and yesterday spoke with an Amish lady who has been a patient for 38 years. If all goes well I will to retire from practicing Optometry in 2018. My staff and I have strived to provide quality products and care sprinkled with the personal touch you speak about above.
    If you are ever back in the area I would loved to take you to lunch or dinner and if in the Summer-Fall months introduce you to my son-in law Dave who co-owns a local produce farm with his brother.
    I enjoy your articles....keep up the good work.
    Dave Schmolly
    ps I have been very happy with Jim Bailey's attention to my funds these past 10 months

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  • Comment Link Alicia Meyer Friday, 30 June 2017 07:43 posted by Alicia Meyer

    Great article, Mike. I love the way you think and the way you express yourself!

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  • Comment Link Ray Pikna Thursday, 29 June 2017 23:17 posted by Ray Pikna

    Mike,
    I also enjoy driving and prefer to be in control rather than delegate driving to a machine. However, I see at least two areas where driverless vehicles can help. First, they will allow us to maintain some independence if we develop infirmities that prevent us from being safe drivers. Second, they can prevent impaired drivers from taking the road if properly equipped with devices such as breathalyzers. Since some people choose to not be responsible in their approach to driving, driverless vehicles may help protect us from those selfish individuals.
    Technology may eventually free humanity from having to work, but men and women of all countries and walks of life must first respect and trust one another rather than seeking power over others. If we use technology to distance us from one another rather than to grow individually and as members of the human race, it will be recorded as the cause for mankind's downfall, if anyone is left who cares enough to record it. Odds are, both will happen, with one segment of society comprised of self-indulgent individuals and the other comprised of explorers who will evolve to another plane.
    As to the politicians, let them live under and abide by the same laws as the rest of us. Test them on their knowledge of a bill before they vote on it. Do not allow them to vote unless they pass the test, and do not allow the bill to go to a vote unless a supermajority of the representatives or senators have passed the test.
    AND TAKE AWAY TRUMP'S TWITTER ACCOUNT!

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  • Comment Link Bill Via Thursday, 29 June 2017 12:46 posted by Bill Via

    Well said

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