Modern (In)conveniences

I studied History at University.  A diverse plethora of history.  Some courses were about countries (i.e. Germany, Africa, Canada, et. al.).  Some were about timelines (World Wars I and II).  The one course that intrigued me the most was about social history.  This was the history of people.  We studied people in society, how they lived, what their jobs were, how many children they had, what they ate, etc.  I was fascinated by this version of history.  One day, during a tutorial about comparisons between life in the 1800s and life in the 1900s, my professor asked the question,  “Was life harder in the 1800s or the 1900s?”  What would you say?

I recall seeing pictures of women carrying buckets of water from the nearby stream.  They had already spent part of the morning bringing wood to make a fire so they could heat up the water to wash the laundry.  No easy task I am sure.  They would start the fire.  They would bring out a huge cauldron of water.  They would place it over the fire to heat up to boiling so that they could dunk all the stinky clothing into that vat.  Then, they would use the Washboard…scrubbing up and down and up and down to clean whatever dirt and stains were on there.  It was one designated “wash day”.  From there it went to hanging all the clothes on the line to dry.  Yes, there was this rope that the clothes were hooked up to in order to hang around and air dry.  Once finally dry, they would said clothing from the line and iron it.  Yes, in the olden days, everything was flattened with heat by an iron.  Day of washing done.

Now, back to my professor’s question:  “Was life harder in the 1800s or the 1900s?”  I gingerly raised my hand and said, “It’s harder now.”  Gasps of amazement rang out throughout the room.  Mutterings of “how she can she believe that’s true!”  “She has no idea what she is talking about.”  Finalizing statements.  My long, lean, string-bean of a professor looked me square in the eyes and asked, “And what makes you arrive at this conclusion?”

I replied, calmly, “We have washing machines and dryers.  We have microwave ovens.  Now we are expected to do more than usual in less time because we have all these conveniences.”  I stated emphatically.  “You used to be able to take a day to do the laundry.  Yes, it was hard to do everything by hand…carry the water, light the fire, wash the clothing by hand, but now you are expected to wash, dry, fold the laundry.  Put the laundry away.”  Then I continued whole-heartedly, “But laundry is not a whole day event.  You still have to make breakfast and lunches and dinner.  Shopping for clothing or groceries.  Taking children to school and/or after school activities.  Walk the dog if you have one.  Prep lunches for next day.  Get your notes ready for next day’s meeting.  Bathe the kids and get them to bed.  Plan and prep for the next few dinner meals.”  I paused.  “I know it was not easy living in the 1800s.  There was no running water.  There was fear of being attacked.  There was always fear of illness.  But nowadays we seem on the run all the time and more and more people are getting burnt out.  We sleep less.  We fret more.  Due to modern conveniences we have less excuses to explain why things aren’t getting done.”

I normally didn’t speak this much in class, but for some reason I felt strongly about this topic.  I wasn’t embarrassed, which I normally would have been because I always worried that my answer would be wrong.  My prof looked around the room, smiled, “you’re correct.”  Shut the front door!!  What??

Yes, he went on to explain that although there were many, many hardships in the colonial days, our modern times and modern technology had actually increased stress and tension in society.  We try to multi-task to the umpteenth degree and end up tired, exhausted, and feeling like failures.  I really was right!  I was vindicated!

Modern technology has made us the worst kind of slaves.  We have enslaved ourselves.  We have to be better, stronger, faster than anyone else.  I love speaking to people who have released themselves from the tyranny that they have created in their lives.  Nothing is THAT urgent.  We may be stuck in traffic and the stress of being late is actually making us hyperventilate.  However, I want you to think about this phrase the next time this happens, “Is someone dying?”  Sounds strange perhaps, but really, if no one is dying then it is not that urgent.  True?

I will admit that I love my modern gadgets.  Especially being a kitchen junkie I have many modern toys.  My latest “ease machines” are attachments for my Kitchenaid…fresh pasta!  Mmmmm…yum yum!   My Baba (“grandma” in village speak) noodles are the grandkids’ favourite!  Nothing inconvenient there.  Salut!


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