Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The 19th century

I had a friend recently asked if my ideas would take us all back to the 19th century (to save you all the confusion or embarrassment of having to ask, that's the 1800s). First, I want to be clear that I'm not against technology or development. Automobiles are fundamentally good, ambulances save lots of lives. Cell phones have the potential of being quite helpful when used for emergencies. And mcmansions have served to pad the wallets of Freddy Mac and Fanny May employees at the expense of taxpayers. The point is that much of the development that has occurred over the last hundred years has drastically improved the quality of life. My images of ideal developments and societies is not devoid of developments that we've made since the 19th century.

My friend was, however, correct in suggesting that most would do without many of the modern conveniences that we currently take for granted. I blogged recently about the cost of our standards and I think this is a similar principle. We have certainly developed as a country and a civilization, but what has the cost been? While we certainly may have longer life expectancies, and many more conveniences, what has it cost us? I think in many situations it has cost us our health. The modern conveniences make us lazy and take from our health (like the obesity epidemic). In my ideal image of things we could have the medical opportunities that we currently enjoy, but go back to actually doing things for ourselves rather than relying on gadgets to do things for us.

In the last sentence that I wrote, I used the phrase, "go back". I want to be clear that I'm referring to going back in time, this is not regressing or going back to a worse time, just a past time. What is really important in your life? What puts value in your life and makes this time on earth worth living? Is it how many gadgets you can collect so that you can do less and less? Or is it time spent with family and friends doing things? I don't know what 'things' are, but when I think back to memorable experiences they involve people and activities, not modern conveniences. I see how cars and cell phones detract from personal interaction. People talk to the same group of friends on the cell phone rather than interacting with the people around them and making new friends. And cars just seem to make people mad at each other. I have no doubt that these new inventions can help improve our relationships and make more things accessible to us, but is that how we are using them?

In fact, I want to question whether we are using the gadgets or are we becoming a slave to them? How much is your car payment? Credit card payment? mortgage? income? Are the 'things' in our life bringing us happiness or are they pulling us away from our friends and family because we are stressed about finances or in order to work more and make more money to buy more stuff? In the 19th century, people owned stuff and they spent time with friends and family. Sure, things were hard and it was a struggle to produce food to eat and diseases were bad, but they built meaningful relationships with family and friends and enjoyed life. (OK, I really don't know how the 19th century was, how old do you think I am?) My point is that many of our developments have been for our good, but others (or our overdependence on some) may be actually leading us away from where we really want to go.

People will often ask my wife what she does with the kids since we don't have a TV. This may be hard to believe, but she spends time with them. They help clean and cook. They play and she plays with them. Try turning the TV off and see just how entertaining your kids can be, really it's incredible. If we didn't have a car, we would be further 'confined' to the home or nearby. Would that limit us from seeing things and exploring? Maybe. Would it also give us more time as a family and enable (force?) us to live a slower, more deliberate life? Probably.

I don't want to go back to the 19th century, but I really think we need to look at our goals in this life. My goals aren't about collecting stuff, they are about developing relationships and I think that I can do that (and am forced to do that) as I do without some of the modern conveniences. While some will always consider this a 'step back', I'm going to call it a step forward as long as they are helping me to build and strengthen relationships.


Miles Archer said...

I saw a t-shirt that said "He who dies with the most toys is still dead"

You may have not seen the PBS and BBC TV programs on living in the 1700s and 1800s. There were on a few years back and people were forced to live with the technology and social mores of the time. It was interesting to how hard people worked in the days before vacuum cleaners, internal combustion engines, and telephones.

Jerry said...

I'll guarantee that it's not the employees of Freddie and Fannie that are benefiting. For a little insight check out the book. "The Creature from Jekyll Island" It is a 580 page history book in reality and history is getting very ready to repeat itself!

The Woulfes said...

you know, our life expectancy these days isn't that much longer, we're just dying from different things. Technology has given us cures for 19th century ailments, but our rates of Heart Disease and Type II Diabetes has almost negated those gains.

That said I think technology is great; it gives us more time to live rather then survive. For example, I have a washing machine that washes and dries the clothes in the same machine (and is BTW wicked efficient). This means I can go for a 5 hr bike ride (on a hi-tech bike that allows me to go faster and farther) and come back to clean clothes. Others with the same machine might spend 5 hrs watching uninterrupted TV.

I guess the point is that technology isn't the problem, it's what we as individuals decide to do with that technology. Some people will use it to better themselves (think Oscar Pretorius)while others will use it in an attempt to be able to become fully sedentary.

Emily A. W. said...

I totally agree with what you said in the last two blogs. I wish people would take more time to think things through rather than going along with the status-quo. I also wish people would take initiative instead of sitting back and passively taking life as it goes.