I’ve been thinking a bit today about how quickly things change. People living in the mid-1800s, say, would have a very hard time coming to grips with our modern world. For a long time, people have complained that we haven’t gotten the flying cars we were promised, but it doesn’t take much thinking to realize that we get into enough trouble with our earth-bound infernal combustion monsters. If they could fly, it would be pandemonium.
And really, there might someday be put in place a system where cars could fly, but it doesn’t seem like that’s where we’re heading.
A clinic visit this morning revealed a “new system” that was getting a lot of worried looks on the faces of those attempting to update records and retrieve information. It meant longer waiting times and possibly even uncertainty as a new, unstable system might result in lost data.
What, one wonders, was wrong with the old system, and what could be better about the new one? I’m sure there are as many new features as glitches but this is the world we live in.
So what about the world of the mid-1800s or even mid-1400s? Did things really change more slowly? Imagine a world where people would be astounded by a locomotive or a telegraph, or even a telescope. Today, we take change for granted and are ready to toss our old cathode-ray tubes for new flat screens and MP3s for hard-copy music. Now we have Blu-Ray. What will we have three years from now? How difficult will it be to retain all our accumulated music and data, and more importantly, will we even care?
Because back all those years ago, most people didn’t accumulate such things at all. We’ve come to accept frame-built houses but houses were often made of stone or brick or even wattle-and-daub. Some of those still exist here and there. I’ve worked in houses part of which were made of adobe, and in this part of the world that’s a rarity. But those old houses last a long time. The oak or ash floors are often a bit shrunken but they can still be maintained.
We’ve moved the plumbing indoors and that doesn’t help. Rot seems to spread from the poorly-maintained plumbing fixtures and in our mediocre economy there isn’t much fixing or remodeling going on like there used to be. But people who cannot afford to replace rotten floors still seem to have those thousand-dollar flat screen televisions and they pay that monthly fee for satellite or cable piping entertainment into their homes. Something shifted, and there’s a lot of commentary about how the new generations no longer feel a permanence in their lives, how they live for today instead of finding worth in things that last, in the stability of ownership.
It’s not at all surprising, of course. Today, banks think of a home as an asset, one that can be quite liquid. You’re a little slow on that payment? We’re sorry, but you’ll have to move out. And we’ll have to let you go because sales just aren’t what they once were. We’re cutting back on all the non-essential employees and as it turns out, we might even have to cut ourselves. Your MP3 player broke? Just buy another. Store your stuff on a cloud, and hope it’ll be there when you go back to look.
Oak? Sure, we’ll put you in an oak floor, but when you see how much less this laminate is, you’ll change your mind.
So why were people able to afford oak in the past? Well, they didn’t even have a telephone bill yet. They didn’t have much money either. And there was more oak. Old-growth trees are all gone now. And no one thought it was a good idea to plant more because, after all, they wouldn’t be around to see the results. We also haven’t gotten immortality. Oh, we live a little bit longer, but an oak takes a long time to mature, and we just haven’t the patience.
So we all make decisions, those of us with the luxury to do so. An oak floor or a new entertainment center. A new car or a new carpet. Me, I’m saving up for a flying car.