Saturday, October 13, 2012

Time-Travel Reversal

It's 2012 and I am driving down the main street in my city...let's see, there's a Kroger grocery store, a Dairy Queen, a Rite Aid, K-Mart, Best Buy, the Macomb Mall, Petco, 7-11, Office Depot, Circle K, Burger King, a Comfort Inn, Ken's Auto Repair Shop, Apple Annie's restaurant, Home Depot, Costgo, Pep Boys, Ed Rinke Chevrolet, the familiar McDonald's golden arches, and a few smaller, more localized shops. All the businesses that are as familiar to me as my own name. And the shapes of the buildings vary here and there, but are mostly rectangular boxes for the most part, with little frivolities added to their look.
Cars, SUV's, semi's, buses, trucks, and motorcycles zip past by the thousands in a constant flow of traffic. If one tries to cross this busy thoroughfare by foot it can be pretty dangerous due to those vehicles who turn right at the red light, forgetting that the pedestrian has the right of way.
And the stop lights are there, every quarter mile or so, along with street signs - probably a dozen for every 500 feet - telling the drivers to turn left here, no turn on red there, lane ends, speed limit 40, school crossing, yield...
Probably not unlike Anytown U.S.A.
Now, my mid-19th century personna is walking down the main street in my mid-19th century town...let's see, there's the cobbler and shoemaker, the millinery shop, and there's the blacksmith shop, the cabinet maker, the general store, the printer, the tinsmith, the cooper shop, the farrier, a tavern, the weaving shop, the tailor, a wagon shop, the saddler and harness maker, a baker, a gun manufacturer, and, seen on the outskirts is the gristmill. Folks on foot, wagons, carts, and carriages pulled by horses trot hither and thither - watch your step as you cross the plank road! - mud from the recent rainstorm cause puddles where there are no planks, soiling the bottoms of the trousers and skirts of the townsfolk and visitors.
Animal droppings abound.
Two different worlds...
Have you ever thought about what your town may have looked like a century and a half ago? Have you ever thought about how much has changed in comparison?
Well, okay, if you're like me and love history you probably have.
But let's reverse that dream or fantasy that many of us who attempt to time-travel to the past have: what would it be like for one from the past to jump up 150 or so years into the future?
We, having the benefit of historical knowledge on our side (i.e. visits to museums, books, the internet, et al.) allows us to study what life was like during our ancestor's time. When we "travel" back in time at a living history event or a reenactment we know what the future holds from that supposed mid-19th century perspective, don't we?
Let's reverse that.
Every-so-often I wonder how would one who was actually from 1850 react if he or she were suddenly placed from their time to our time, of how a person from the mid-19th century may recognize very little if they were suddenly placed here in 2012.

So let's imagine this happening to my 3rd great grandparents, William and Mary Anne Raby. How would they react if they suddenly found themselves in the 21st century from their 1850's existence? What would they think?
What the heck are those metal things setting there? And look at all of the telegraph wires!
Standing on a corner and seeing these...these things - hundreds, nay, thousands of these steam-type carriages of some sort - moving along without the help of horses at speeds greater than they'd ever seen!
How would they respond to actually sitting in an auto traveling along at 40 miles per hour, then entering a freeway and zipping up to 70 mph? Could their mind comprehend such speed? Could their minds take in all of the signs and sights, including the lights, the flashing billboards, and even the volume of the sounds surrounding them (including blaring music from the car radios), whipping past them in the same manner as we can?

Now, let's stop at a store...any store...

I am sure that William would clearly know many of the tools inside of the Sears tool shop, such as the gardening supplies: shovels, rakes, etc. and other tools as a hand saw, hammer, and nails. But, he most certainly would not recognize the tractor, the chainsaw, the power drill, or the staple gun.
How about the women's department at Khol's? I can just imagine what Mary Anne would think of the latest fashions in clothing and shoes!
Of course, shopping for kitchen supplies at Bed, Bath, & Beyond would make their head spin! A toaster? A mixer? A refrigerator? Ha! just the fridge alone would be unfathomable: think about it - a box that you can regulate the temperature in one area to freezing while another area is above freezing but still at a cooler temperature - inside the same box! And a light goes on when you open the door!!
Wait! What's a light??
Then there's the that can cook without the benefit of wood or coal. Some can cook even without a fire. And to top it off, one can set the exact temperature by turning a dial or pushing a button!
And then there's the microwave oven. How can one explain something that will cook food in the fraction of the time on compared to a stove?
Let's think about their reaction to television. Plasma TV's. The motion picture. Hundreds and hundreds of channels to watch. DVR.
Records, cassettes, compact discs, MP3's, ipods?????
How about the telephone? The cell phone. The smart phone?
Digital cameras.
The internet...

Would there be anything at all inside of Best Buy that they would recognize or even understand?

I find thinking about this sort of thing entertaining, especially while at work when time allows for such thoughts.
Do you ever think these kind of "frivolous" thoughts, or am I alone in this?
I will say, sure beats thinking about politics all the time!



An Historical Lady said...

Great post Ken. I am lucky to have access to old photos of our New Hampshire village taken in the mid to late 1800's, and they are stunning and fascinating! I also own one original photo of my house taken BEFORE 1902, and probably when it was already over 100 years old!
As you know, I love time traveling, and old photos are one great way to actually see what your own neighborhood looked like back in the 1860's, 80's, 1920, and so on...

Christine said...

I love it, great post! I've often though of those folks near 100 years old and wondered what changes they've seen in their lifetimes. It is easy to think about how much we didn't know when even I was a child.

Daibhre said...

(Long post here. Sorry.) I once read a short story - a speculative exercise - about a guy who admired Isaac Newton to the point of hero-worship. He was distressed that Sir Isaac had a sudden revelatory experience at which point he gave up science entirely. "If only he had had a simple pocket calculator," sez he. "Think of all the great things he could have discovered, and might have stuck with his mathematical research." So he built himself a time machine (yes, he did) and went back to give Isaac Newton a hand calculator. He found Sir Isaac in his library working diligently on some equation or other, and without preamble, revealed the calculator to the learned genius. After a few seconds of shock, the great mathematician declared, "This is obviously the work of the Devil! Get thee gone!" And Isaac Newton gave up his scientific studies there and then.

Historical Ken said...

Hmmm...Daibhre, interesting. But, given the time period in which Newton lived I can understand his thoughts on the very futuristic calculator being the work of the devil or some entity of possible magic.
Interesting - thanks for posting.
Christine - Have you ever written down the top 10 life-changing things/happenings in the world within your lifetime? And then compare that to the top 10 of your great grandmother's time and compare.
Mary - I posted a 'then-andnow' post a while back that reminds me of what you wrote here:

Thanks all for taking the time to post a comment. I do appreciate it.

Daibhre said...

I think folks like Ben Franklin and James Watt and Robert Fulton and Cyrus McCormick and so on could handle the present fairly well. Probably even John Jacob Astor (quite a visionary). But most "common folk" would probably suffer serial anxiety attacks until they found refuge in a living history community somewhere. Or an Amish neighborhood!

the bee guy said...

I bet they would wonder how did everyone get so fat with no food being produced in their 1/4 acre backyard.