When the power went out at roughly 2:45am on Wednesday morning last week, I was certain it would come back on within a few minutes. After all, I’ve lived in this apartment complex for about 10 years, and the longest my power had ever been out before was 20 minutes. When it was still off as I woke up for the day at 6:00am, I figured something was seriously, seriously wrong. But I could handle it.
Day One was an interesting change of pace. Day Two was getting to be more of a bore. By Day Three, I’d lost my sense of humor and adventure entirely. Day Four I began to lose hope too. So on Day Five, when I returned to my apartment to find that the power was still out after a promise that it would come back at 11pm the night before, I just about fell into despair. And when I got home from church a couple of hours later to find the power back on…. Halleluiah!!!
Interestingly enough, as I was checking out at the drug store Sunday morning, the fresh-faced young lad behind the counter made the comment that he would sure hate to be Amish, because they never had power! I shook my head at him and explained that actually, it would be great to be Amish, because they’re prepared to have no power and we modern 21st century people are not.
I usually like to write about history on Mondays, and in a way, today is no exception. Because for four and a half days, when the temperature was hovering between 17 and 32 degrees in the Philadelphia area, I and everyone around me got a little taste of just how unprepared we are nowadays for the things that were second nature to people as little as a hundred years ago. Because up until that time, no one had “power”. At the same time, in my humble opinion, they were much more powerful.
It’s not that modern people are pathetic and anyone who lived before electricity was commonplace was stronger, smarter, and more ingenious. People of history came equipped with a different set of skills: skills that were suitable to the environment in which they lived. Too often I think that 21st century scoff at their lack of…I don’t know, higher cognition? Or maybe it’s what we see as a more narrow, limited focus to their lives. They didn’t travel, they didn’t have a comparable percentage of higher education, they were unaware of the larger picture of the world. Oh, and my favorite BS misconception about people of history, they were dirty. But man, they were self-sufficient!
Going without electricity for four and a half days could be a very good way for a 21st century person to reevaluate and appreciate the things that anyone pre-20th century knew or could do. The only reason I froze my grillies off for days and had to eat out every meal and seek shelter with friends is because I don’t have a fireplace in my house and I rely on electricity to cook. If I had something as simple as a fireplace, my experience of the last five days would have been drastically different. It’s not a value judgment about whether architecture is better or worse in any particular century or whether modern technology makes us better or worse as human beings, it’s a matter of having the appropriate skill set for the era in which you live.
As we have all just seen, our lives in the 21st century are very well-suited to 21st century life, but not so much 19th century life. Without the gadgets we’ve become dependent on, we’re powerless, pun intended. The advances we’ve made in everyday living have made our lives more complex, more global, and possibly even richer than the lives of, oh, say, medieval peasants, but I’ve just experienced several days in which I really wished we weren’t so dependent on things that we can’t control or operate on my own. I waited over four days for a specialist to come set my life back in order. Two hundred years ago I could have brought the light and heat back by chopping some wood and refilling the lamps.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that while our lives are more advanced and allow for us to achieve great heights, it’s a long, helpless fall from those heights sometimes. We’re so remote from the basic knowledge and tools of survival these days that crisis situations hit us harder. And if I ever find myself in a position to buy a house, I’m getting one with a fireplace or two and a gas stove!
What do you think? Have our modern advances made us more helpless on a basic level?