The following is part of the commencement address given by Alan Alda to the 2003 graduating class at Southampton College on Long Island. I'm quoting it from Alda's most recent book, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself.
The single greatest American invention was not Henry Ford's car -- it was Henry Ford's assembly line. In our time, it's reached the peak of perfection. Everyone on the line has a specialized role to play. Crank your nut, slam in your bolt, and go home. No one is responsible for the whole thing, just his or her little part of it. It only has to be good enough to sell -- and its value, its worth, is reckoned by the price it gets. Your ambition will be directed at getting a better place on the assembly line and someday maybe even running the line -- but as in that great Lily Tomlin aphorism, "The trouble with the rat race is even if you win, you're still a rat."
So what chance do you have to be "our future"?
This chance: You can decide to think for yourself. You can say to yourself, I will make a silk purse out of every sow's ear that comes down the assembly line.
You may be expected to tell people only what they need to know to make the sale. But if you learn to find out what they actually need and help them get it, I bet you'll feel better and even do better. It takes more energy -- much more energy -- but it's also more fun. Edmund Burke said: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." And I say that the only thing necessary for the triumph of the assembly line is for creative people with the energy of youth to do nothing but learn the ropes.