Reflections on Soil and Smartphones


I usually keep my discussions here focused on issues of experience design that cut across challenges faced by a range of professionals as they work to engage learners, customers, consumers, and just ordinary people. However, I saw something today that made me think about soil and the experience of working the soil. Just a little personal reflection I’d like to share.

I try to do a workout each day and today was no different. As I prepared for my 20 mile mental and physical excursion on my stationary bike, filling a large glass of water at the sink, my eyes were drawn to one of the guys who cuts our grass. He was on a large riding mower, stopped in the middle of my back yard, intently working with his thumbs on what looked like a smartphone from my viewpoint. Now I realize this is not a unique thing to see these days. Yet , it evoked a memory of mine that made me smile and take wonder in how an ordinary guy cutting a stranger’s lawn stays connected with anyone he needs to communicate.

I spent my youth in the late 1960s doing farm work in rural Alabama. One of my fondest, and most solitary, memories from that time involves driving tractors early in the morning. Farmers used to turn the soil each spring and then disc it into small clods before planting, a practice that since gave way to the better environmental practice of no-till farming. In the early spring, sometimes with frost still on the ground and a mist hanging in the air, I often found myself in a forty or fifty acre field alone on a tractor pulling a turning plow. Depending on how early it was in the spring, sometimes we tied cotton sacks along the side of the engine to bring back the heat for some warmth.

As the plow cut through the soil it turned the topsoil from about six to eight inches underneath onto the top of the ground. The crispness of the air and the earthy smell of the soil, provided a really pleasing experience, except for times when the wind shifted to blow the smell of the engine exhaust back in my face. The experience of such solitary work encouraged me to sing, which I enjoy doing to this day. Anyway, the image of the guy paused on the mower in my back yard texting someone to stay in touch made me wonder whether farmers still experience solitude when they are alone working a field with their machines.

Posted by Larry R. Irons

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