What Things Can We Learn From Our Ancestors
Today’s society moves at lightning speed. Technological advancements allow our children to grow up in a world where most events occur instantly. Take travel planning for example. Plans are made spur of the moment via text message. Travel routes are sorted out in seconds and include the best means of skirting all that nasty construction. Purchasing an airline ticket (or camping equipment, or just about anything you might need for your trip) at the lowest rate can be done from a cell phone. In other words, it is entirely possible to wake up one morning and be on the other side of the country by dinnertime the same day if that’s what you decide is on the day’s agenda.
Lets take a shorter trip. Imagine your brother and sister-in-law live in Paxton, Illinois about 60 miles east of you. They are expecting their first child and you’re very excited about becoming an aunt. You get a phone call at 6:00 PM on June 1, 2011. You quickly text your sister-in-law’s brother, Jake, and let him know you’re on your way to pick him up. A scant 10 minutes later the two of you are on the interstate, your GPS has warned you of a delay ahead and given you an alternate route to the hospital your brother mentioned. By 7:15 PM you are at the hospital, and your sister-in-law is just starting to have those nasty contractions that mean there’s about to be a new family member. At midnight you’re still impatiently waiting. At 2:00 AM you use your cellphone to call work and leave a message that you won’t be in the next day. You also take a moment to access your calendar and reschedule your appointments sending email updates to the individuals you were meeting. By 4:00 AM you are bored with the waiting, have dozed off several times, and wonder why the baby is taking so long. At 5:00 AM, your brother comes out to let you know it was a false alarm. It’s frustrating that you rushed all this way, rescheduled everything, now you have an hour drive home, and have to wait to do the whole thing over again! It seems this little one doesn’t yet understand how to navigate in this fast paced world.
In 1891, the automatic telephone exchange was patented. To clarify, the concept of this patent was to devise a mechanical means of connecting two telephones without the use of a human operator. “Automobiles” of the day were powered by steam and far beyond the financial means of most families. It would be more than a decade before the Wright Brothers make their first powered flight. Imagine what it must have been like to handle the travel planning for the above scenario at that time!
You receive a telegraph that you are an aunt. That’s right, the baby was born before you knew the mother was even in labor. Medical care wasn’t what it is today and the mother and child’s health were the first and foremost concern. Telephones were becoming popular, but important news was still sent by telegraph machine especially when the message was going any distance. You run (yes, literally run) down to your sister-in-law’s family homestead and proceed to make plans to go visit. This is a family event and most of the family from both sides will be going, and you most certainly won’t be traveling alone with Jake! There’s no passenger train near enough to get you there. So, your means of travel are a horse and buggy. It will be several days before you have all the provisions needed to travel 60 miles gathered, but between the two families you should be able to get everything prepared within a week. You need to take into consideration that your horse will be carrying quite a load and will need to stop every couple of hours to rest. It’s June, so if you leave early, you should make it about three-quarters of the way there before you have to stop for the night... I guess you can see the difference in travel over the past 120 years.
You might wonder why I chose this particular year for comparison. My great-grandmother was born in 1891 near Paxton, Illinois. Her youngest sister, Mamie, was born in 1910 and survived well into my teenage years. She used to tell us how much things had changed over her lifetime. She worked for the telegraph company and taught my brothers Morse Code when we were children, even though we used one of our four telephones regularly. Later she was a typesetter for a newspaper. I remember her once telling me about the printing press and my comparison of it to a 1980s model copy machine. She laughed long and hard before explaining to me that if they could have printed the news that quickly it wouldn’t have been worth reading. I think I have a much better understanding of that comment now.
It’s been less than a quarter of a century since she passed away. As you would expect, some of the changes are for the better and others, well, maybe not so much. While technological advancements are not necessarily a bad thing, the instant gratification and impatient attitudes being cultivated by our instantaneous world might not be the best for society in general. If my Aunt Mamie were to see “<3 2 c u” in a text message she would be so confused! Do they still teach spelling in grade school today? What about grammar?
So, I ask you, how can we keep the best of today and revive the best of the past? What can we learn from our ancestors? For starters, maybe a little tolerance for a slower pace. There might have actually been something important you were missing all those times your grandmother told you to stop and smell the roses.