Just a little blog about me and mine.

Tricking Kids Into Manual Labor (and saving the world) January 31, 2009

Filed under: family,Why didn't I think of that? — Katie @ 3:09 am

A headline about tricking kids into doing manual labor was enough to get me to click through a link on a website (Gizmodo) to see what they were talking bout.  It’s a computer gadget website/blog, so I was fairly certain the article wasn’t going to be about parenting or chores, so it got my attention. Kids should be good for something, and manual labor tops my list.  I generally think that kids are a giant drain of energy, time, and money and not really good for anything other than to have a socially acceptable excuse to play on a playground and see kids movies and not look like a social deviant.

My parents were relatively cool in the childhood manual labor department. Unlike my dad, I didn’t have to spend my childhood “leisure” time picking cotton or putting up tobacco, churning butter, milking cows or castrating pigs. He once told me that a summer spent working tobacco, in a hot barn, arms covered in black tar, made him decide to go to college and not have to work on the farm. I grew up within 20 miles of that farm, but had a much more posh childhood. I had to keep my room generally neat and suffered through reminders that, “drawers that open are drawers that close.” I set the table when asked, I cut the grass and got paid $5, and if you’ve ever seen the size of my parents’ yard, they got the better end of that deal. Overall, I was expected to just be generally agreeable and nice and had to do what was asked of me.

But, back to tricking kids into manual labor. Clicking on the headline proved that it’s not a parenting article, or a child abuse article, but a really awesome invention called the Play Pump that has the potential to make a huge difference in the world.


It looks, and plays, like regular playground equipment, but it’s really a pump for moving groundwater to a tank for a village. There’s a tank between the pump and the faucet, allowing water to be stored after “playtime.”


Access to clean drinking water is one of the world’s most urgent needs:

  • more than 1 billion of the world’s people don’t have a reliable source of clean water
  • 80% of all sickness in the world is caused by water-related disease
  • the burden of finding and hauling clean water is often left to women and girls, a task that is both arduous and dangerous

I’m not well versed in international development issues, so I don’t know if the Play Pump folks are effective in bringing these to places where they will make a difference.  I hope so.  It’s often the simplest solutions that are the best.  Occam’s Razor and all that.

Nevertheless, I’m a fan of elegant, efficient, and useful technology–especially when it’s put to good use.  Technology, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad, but nor is it neutral.  Think about it.  Technology is not a moral value.  It’s capacity to be either life giving  or life taking rests not in the technology itself, but with us, it’s creators and users, and for that reason it’s also not a neutral and independent force at work in the world.  For example, the development of the machine gun prior to WWI was a huge technological leap forward after centuries of hand-to-hand combat.  It’s efficient.  It’s effective.  It wasn’t the gun that made it possible to kill one another in a cold, industrialized way–we did that–the gun was just the technology we used.

Likewise, it’s up to us to recognize the moral issues attached to the lack of clean water around the world.  And it’s also and up to us to find ways to solve them, together with the folks whose lives are at stake, or course.  Those are the moral values at stake–life, death, safety, dignity.  Technology has a big role to play as a catalyst and a tool for social change, and in this case, it’s also makes for one really sweet toy.


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