Sunday, June 19, 2011

Is trusting our lives to strangers a joke?

Is trusting our lives to strangers a joke? The Onion thinks so. The satirical newspaper recently published, "Report: Life Put In Hands Of 2,000 Complete Strangers Every Single Day." I love the Onion (and its sister site, the AV Club), but this article struck me as odd for them.


According to a new report from the National Institute for Safety Management, on any given day, the average American's life is entrusted to more than 2,000 different people who are complete strangers.

The report, which shows how any one of these anonymous individuals making a single mistake can easily cause another person's death, concluded that it is only through sheer luck that anyone ever makes it through a 24-hour period alive.

"People you don't know and will never even meet — food-safety regulators, bridge inspectors, whoever installed the gas lines in your home — ultimately have the power to decide whether you live or die," the report read in part. "We have no choice but to trust that these individuals are always being very careful and know exactly what they're doing." ...

The article was odd because much more of it than usual could be read straight, and it was only really the fake quotes that stand out as obvious jokes. "'Now I feel like I need to be extra wary,' said Howard, dialing her cell phone while driving on virtually no sleep and sipping a cup of hot coffee. 'It's scary to think who I could be trusting my personal safety to.'" is pretty funny, for example.

But putting aside the fake quotes and the fake math (it would be fun to try to figure out for real how many strangers affect our lives daily), this could very well be a real article. One way to look at it (which seems intended) is as a bleak and terrifying realization of how fragile our lives are. But personally, I think it's pretty wonderful to be reminded just how well society works.

Right now I'm trusting in my computer makers to have built something reliable that will work and won't electrocute me. I'm relying on the thousands of people that built New York's water supply over the course of centuries, so I could drink this glass of tap water. I'm trusting that the nine floors of building below our 10th-story apartment won't spontaneously collapse - thanks to Stuyvesant Town engineers and construction crews from 1946. I'll never meet them, but my life depends on them every day. We're about to go get lunch, and I take it for granted that I can eat anywhere I like and not get food poisoning. (In fact, after eating nearly every meal out for the last 8 years in NYC, I've only ever gotten food poisoning - mildly - twice. At nearly 6,000 meals, that's a rate of only .03 percent.) On the way to the restaurant, we'll pass dozens of motorists that will obey traffic laws and not run us over.

It's nice to step back every once in awhile and marvel at how well most people do their jobs (and how we have multiple backup systems in place to compensate when mistakes are inevitably made.) Thanks, Onion.




Bonus: If you click through to the article, it has a "How Many Hands Do You Put Your Life In Each Day?" quiz that generates a fun (albeit arbitrary) number for you.

1 comment:

Mister James said...

Very cool. Just yesterday I left my weekly SEPTA pass on the train and only realized when I got on the return train that I'd forgotten it.. but nobody had stolen it and the conductor had it in his pocket. So by virtue of the fat that people did the right thing, I didn't have to spend any more money on tickets this week. And I think that these things happen to all of us every day, we just don't put it in perspective, into the big picture, all the time. Thanks.