Question: am I using my big ol' noggin to help the world in a meaningful way?
Point: what I do is useful, because though I am but a cog in a big machine, I am helping make Chrome, which is very fast and makes the internet better by pushing for faster better more standards-based websites, and more internet makes things better for everyone! You know, like those farmers in Africa who can look up information about crops on their phones now.Counterpoint: http://noimpactman.typepad.com/blog/2010/03/progress.html
Let's duke it out, but first let me diverge and talk about Buddha for a while. I saw a talk by Thanissaro Bhikkhu yesterday where he talked about questions and answers with the Buddha. A lot of people asked the Buddha a lot of questions, and were often confused by his answers. Most people answer questions one way: categorically, but the Buddha answered questions 4 ways:
1. categorical answers, like "yes" or "no".
2. analytical answers, which take a little explanation, or breaking it down into cases.
3. answering the question with more questions
4. just not answering the question, or the "mu!" answer
The Buddha didn't pick from these at random; he did whatever would be most skillful. And you can see this makes sense, and you get questions like this in daily life. Examples:
1. categorical: if you said "does 2+2=4?" I'd say yes. Done.
2. analytical: if you asked me "is it sunny today?" I couldn't just say "yes" or "no"; I could say "if you mean "was it sunny this morning" then yes, if you mean "is it sunny now" then no."
3. more questions: if you said "hey Dan, what kind of knife should I buy?" I'd say "do you mean for the kitchen, or for juggling?" and next "if you mean for the kitchen, do you want a cheap knife or an expensive knife? and what kind of knives do you already have?"
4. mu!: if you said something nonsensical, like "do colorless green ideas sleep furiously?", that would not merit answering. Or like "hey, what's the best way to dismember a corpse?" It would probably be best for all involved if I didn't answer that.
(for the record, draw and quarter. cut at joints, not through bones. duh.)
The Buddha is such a pragmatist! It's kind of weird that it's even considered a religion. At all points, he's just trying to get people enlightened (/in a higher mental state/happier), in the most logical, straightforward, and effective way. It's kind of weird that there are scientists or engineers out there who are not Buddhists.
Anyway, No Impact Man vs. me working at Google. I was going to say "well, my point above wins." Then I was going to be all mopey and be like "yeah, but does it really? I mean, internet is nice and all but I should be feeding starving children." Then I was going to be like "look I learned cool things from the Buddha; this question does not have a categorical answer." But I think ultimately I just posted about two unrelated things, and my point above wins.
(or at least, to worry about it, at this point in time, would not be skillful.)