How many times have you heard someone scoff at the ignorant things that people in the past used to do? A lot, right? Now many times have you found yourself feeling smug because you can take a shower while those nasty Medieval peasants never bathed (which is a lie, by the way)? A lot of people think that we in the Modern Age are the smartest and savviest people ever. But I have a feeling that if someone from a bygone era could take a peek into our world they would shake their heads at some of the truly insane things that we all do.
Here are my top choices for the mind-numbingly stupid things that modern people do:
1. We buy water. The bottled water industry makes billions of dollars a year. While one could argue that it’s important to have pure drinking water and that a lot of people throughout history haven’t had access to this basic necessity, does that really justify paying a dollar or more for a bottle of water? Taps abound everywhere. Modern tap water is much cleaner than anything people of the past had available to them. And that’s even before we run it through a filter. But here we are, repeatedly paying big money for “special” water in a bottle. And guess what? Most of the time that water comes from a tap somewhere else.
How ridiculous is it that we turn up our noses at free water and dig deep in our purses to buy someone else’s water?
2. We sit in one place all day. Not necessarily by choice, but we do. I do at least. Throughout most of human history people have spent their day moving. Whether that was working in the fields or marching as an army or taking care of household tasks, people moved. The wealthiest of people may have spent long stretches of time sitting at a dinner table or in a parlor having tea, but they still went for walks and moved around from engagement to engagement.
Here in the modern world so very many of us spent at least 8 hours a day in Cubeville. Our office chairs get butt-grooves. If we do get up it’s usually only to walk as far as the printer or the bathroom or the water-cooler (which someone has paid for). Those who do find some time to move throughout the day pay money to go to special places with machinery that helps us use our muscles. An entire multi-billion dollar fitness industry has risen up to compensate for the fact that we are evolving into banana slugs.
3. We voluntarily ingest chemicals. Seriously, have you ever read the label on some of your favorite foods? I have a package of Girl Scout cookies sitting right next to me. Some of the ingredients include thiamine mononitrate, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, and annatto color. I don’t even want to know what’s in the Big Mac I had last week. I read an article a while back that talked about how the McRib sandwich includes some of the same ingredients as those used in yoga mats.
Not only that, naturally produced and minimally processed foods, the kind people have eaten for millennia, are next to impossible to find and really expensive when you do find them. Most of us are completely unaware of what parts of the cow we’re eating. And don’t get me started on the contents of hot dogs, yummy as they are. We’ve come a long way from that delicious Medieval peasant pottage that was a staple of historic diet.
We’re paying the price for it too. Obesity is a problem like it never has been. What we’ve accomplished in modern, curative medicine for acute conditions we’ve totally lost in everyday health and wellbeing.
4. We don’t talk to people. At least not directly. I’m as guilty as the next modern person of chatting for hours online and sending emails to my friends instead of picking up the phone. Or visiting. But back in the day not only was visiting a major social activity, communities would gather in the center of town or in people’s houses for real, live interaction with their neighbors. The tradition of oral storytelling has been replaced by more sitting, in front of the TV this time, and making music together, dancing, and conversation have become increasingly rare art forms.
Not surprisingly then, cases of anxiety, depression, and mental illness have been on a measured rise throughout the 20th and into the 21st century. Numerous studies have shown that the less time you spend interacting in person with other people the greater your chances for depression. And who’s to say that we won’t lose our ability to interact with each other at all?
5. We buy stuff with money we don’t have. Guess how the Great Depression of the 1930s started? It started because throughout the wild days of the 1920s people were buying stocks and things on margin. That means that they were “buying” them with the idea that when the stocks turned a profit that profit would be used to buy the original stock. And then the bottom fell out. History repeated itself in 2007, although no one wants to admit it.
But guess what? The same thing happens every day. I’m as guilty of it as the next person. Although I don’t have as much credit card debt as the average American, if for some reason my credit card company decided I had to pay them back immediately, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Multiply that by millions and suddenly you realize that our entire economic system is built on nothing.
Peasants and lower class folks of bygone eras might have been considered poor by modern standards, they didn’t have as much stuff as we do, but they also didn’t live under a mountain of credit card debt. I would hypothesize that if all of the debts we’ve rung up to sustain our modern lifestyles was suddenly called in, we’d be in much worse shape than the peasants of a thousand years ago.
I think I’ve proven my point. We might think that we’re modern, enlightened people, but at the same time we’ve trapped ourselves in a lot of really silly or unhealthy behavior. There is no historical precedent for some of the nim-nod things we do.
Of course, it makes me wonder what kind of face-palm inducing activities people will be involved with in a hundred years or so. Whatever those things may be, you can bet they’ll be looking back on the people of today and calling us ignoramuses.