The Most Valuable Treasures
For much of our time on Earth, we humans existed as nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers. We roamed the land, searching for the necessities of life: food, water, raw materials, medicine, and so on. Hunter-gatherers were not only good at bringing down mammoths, but also at scavenging when resources were not readily available. The hunter needed a new spear point, but there were no sharp rocks around, so he used part of his knife. The gatherer needed a basket, but there were no reeds in sight, so she weaved a makeshift container out of the material in her shoes. Human beings have always been aware of what is available, and used it to help them achieve their desires.
The necessities of life have become more easily accessible for much of the human population. The need to hunt and gather is significantly reduced when the local grocery store has all the food and supplies you could ever want. The reduced need for hunting and gathering, however, has not diminished our skill at scavenging. It has merely changed the way the skill is applied.
For people who have come of age surrounded by personal electronics and remote controls, the most commonly scavenged resource is probably the alkaline power cell, or the battery as it is more commonly known. For as long as I can remember, I have pried open the back of one device to steal its power for use in another. AA batteries were the indispensible treasures of my childhood. I remember committing many daring heists, like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Only instead of replacing a gold idol with a bag of sand, I carefully exchanged the charged-up batteries in my brother’s Gameboy for the dead ones in mine. Of course, there were similar consequences. Indiana Jones faced a giant, rolling boulder that could crush him in the blink of an eye, while I faced the wrath of my older, and significantly larger brother. There doesn’t appear to be much difference.
Next to the rush of finding, and stealing, AA batteries that work, I have endured the bitter disappointment of discovering the last working device in the house used the dreaded AAA batteries. It was like finding a copy of my favorite book opening it up, and seeing it was written in French. While AA batteries are a gift from god, the AAA battery is His cruel joke. Nothing cool runs on AAA batteries. They provide power only to boring devices, like alarm clocks, egg timers, and uselessly tiny flashlights.
As I grew up, so did battery technology. Today it is all lithium-ion batteries that are easy to charge, difficult to trade, and expensive to replace. I wish the old kind of batteries were still as crucial to everyday life, but I realize how ridiculous it would be to have a laptop that runs on 20 AA batteries. But there still remain some last vestiges of the good old days. Anything that runs on AA batteries in my house is likely to have its power stolen for what I deem to be a better purpose. There is a power toothbrush in my bathroom. Although it still fights plaque and gingivitis on a daily basis, it hasn’t lived up to its full, powered potential for a long time. I use it manually, because its batteries are in my Xbox controller.
Of course there are plenty of ways to be entertained that need no batteries. They just require something even more rare and valuable: patience.