- Jack McDevitt
Watching people trying to survive the current rush of hurricanes has been depressing. When we got back home after evacuating Irma last September, we were fortunate. No property damage. The only issue we had to deal with was a loss of power for several days. We spent much of that time wondering how people had managed before they had electricity. We more or less take electrical power for granted. Suddenly our refrigerator didn’t work. Neither did the cooling system or the lights. Nor the TV. Take that stuff away, and the house becomes dark and silent. I remember my mom years ago describing how excited her family had gotten when the first radio showed up in their house. It was about 1920. It’s hard to imagine now people living entire lifetimes in a house that provided light exclusively from candles. That had no connection with the outside world.
It makes us think about other elements that are a normal part of our lives that have arrived only recently. Imagine what the troops of the Civil War, and all those other wars tracking back to the very beginning of human activity, went through with no painkillers. Until Gutenberg made his contribution to the printing press, we had no books. We’ve had cars for only about a hundred years. The computer I’m using now would have shocked my teachers.
What else do we have that most previous generations did not? News media. Imagine living in a world where we had no idea what the king and his knights were up to? They also had no dentists, so the only cure for a toothache was to have a friendly uncle yank the tooth. Supermarkets didn’t exist. Chances are that a few hundred years ago, you had to kill whatever it was you wanted for supper. There were no trains. If you had to get to New York you could either ride a horse or walk. Or maybe, if you lived a bit later, take the stage coach.
Glasses were missing. Eyes tend to weaken at our fortieth birthday. That was apparently when Nature intended us to check out. I’m not sure who invented shoes, or when, but they’re nice to have around. We all love movies. My mom remembered when they first arrived, at about the time of the radio.
It’s not always the technology that gives us gifts. A hundred years ago women did not yet have the right to vote. There are still people in the Mideast and in Asia and elsewhere who dare not say what they really think. That’s another pleasure we enjoy, even if it does sometimes get us into trouble with friends.
I’m looking out my office window at a sky full of sunlight. And I’m grateful to have been born where and when I was. We’re still advancing. Let’s make sure it continues. In a future world, people may wonder what warm sunlight and a soft breeze felt like.