Tuesday, April 28, 2015

This Is the Modern World

"Ken, if you could choose any era in time to travel to, aside from your own, where, in all the past, would you go?"
This way! This way to the past! Step lively, now!
Quite frequently I am asked this question. And the thoughts I have for an answer never fails to pull me in a few different directions. Of course, my easy response of "any time between 1750 and 1860" (and *maybe* sneaking up into the 1890s) should be of no surprise to any of you, I'm sure. I have little interest in going back before 1740 or 1750, for I believe the survival skills needed go far beyond anything I could handle. At least there was some sustenance that I could learn and handle easier in or near a later-period colonial village. The decade that interests me most from that time is the 1770s.
Of course, the 19th century is of great interest as well and I have studied much of the daily life of that century. I believe I could handle living during the 1800s, as long as I had some initial guidance.
But for me to time-travel to sometime in the electric era of the 20th century doesn't make much sense; there is no excitement for me personally to reenact a time that I, for all intents and purposes, lived through. I have lived through most of the 20th century, even if much of it was, to an extent, vicariously: my parents were born in the 1920s, grew up in the 1930s, met, dated, and married in the 1940s, had children in the 1950s and early 1960s, and lived the so-called "perfect life" of raising kids during the baby boom era.
There was also electricity, thus having electric lighting in homes for most of the 20th century. They had motor vehicles, phonographs, flashlights, buses, telephones, movies, radios, flashing neon advertisements....so much of what we have today.
And their children? We grew up with much of their 1940s life still with us: the morals, mores, music, movies, and even conversations - don't forget, the WWII generation were in their 30s and 40s when I was a kid, and much of 'their time' was still with us; my dad loved to listen to the Big Band music of his youth, and my mom would sing us to sleep with "Chickery Chick." And much of the entertainment on TV consisted of the singers, comedians, and actors of their time.
Though I have done a few living history events of the 1910s and 1920s here and there, time-traveling to the 20th century is not something I often think about or really care to do.
So, being that I prefer an earlier era than of my parents or grandparents, one of the questions I am asked is what would I miss from our modern 21st century times if I chose to live in the pre-electric past.
That always gets me to thinking....and so I did come up with a list of items I would miss and why I would miss 'em:

First off, I believe I would have a difficult time without modern medicine and medical technology. It's amazing how far we've come in saving lives, especially for babies and toddlers. The infant mortality rate has plummeted with the gained knowledge in child care and with the help of certain vaccinations. And death for women during childbirth has become a rarity in our society today.
I can not even imagine...
The invention of aspirin, a wonder drug if there ever was one, was a breakthrough. Of course, surgery as performed today (including heart surgery & transplants and brain surgery) is something they could only dream of "back then" - though it was through their experimentation with anesthesia that greatly helped here.
Oh yes, now I feel much better!!
How about the realistic artificial limbs of today? Amazing.
And we could go on and on...so many would not have lived a normal life if it hadn't been for the emerging medical technology.

Those who know me know I love to take pictures, so how about them digital cameras, eh? Yes, I know picture taking doesn't even come close to the importance of modern medicine, but, well, I don't want this to be all serious, you know? Anyhow, I remember having a 35 mm camera back in the 1990s and took some really cool photos at the Holly Dickens Festival - one of a kind you had to be there shots. And guess what? Out of the couple dozen pictures I took, only six turned out. Six out of two dozen! Was I upset!
So when digital cameras came around at a somewhat reasonable price a few years later, I was elated.
Don’t you just love modern technology?
Now I could actually see the pictures and how good or bad they were right after I took them. Add to that the awesome photo/graphics editing computer programs such as Paint Shop Pro or Photoshop and, well, I am as happy as a pig in...well, let's just say I love having instant photos and a literal photo lab right there in my living room!
And don't even get me going on the printing options! Woo hoo!!

This goes hand in hand with modern ways of research technology (home computers, etc.). Yep...my very favorite thing to do on my home computer is to be able to have a world of research at my fingertips and be able to write this Passion for the Past blog. Just think...with a click of the mouse I can learn about and share my love of history with hundreds - even thousands - of other like-minded people! And I can read of others' historical passions and hobbies as well! Just as cool is the idea that we can all share our love of history through countless ways right in the convenience of our own living rooms.
See? It says here that George Washington was our first President! This computer is amazing!
I must say, through this blog and through Facebook I've become friends with some wonderful people - people who I have not ever met in person. Yet I've become close with so many others with the same interests.
Yeah, the home computer is pretty remarkable. It really is.

Something else that we have - or are allowed to have - in our modern age is close friendships with the opposite sex without "relations." In the past, men and women were not supposed to visit with one another as we do today unless they were beyond friends. Oh woe to me if I lived in the way past, for I count more women as my close friends then men.
I enjoy visiting (or phoning) my friends of the opposite sex. It would be awfully difficult for me to not be allowed to have a friendship with them.
I enjoy talking with my female friends on the phone, visiting in person, or just hanging around as a mixed group. And yet, there has never ever been a cause for mistrust. Thank God it's no longer a stigma.
However, as a living historian you'll never see me do this while at a reenactment:
 Or...could this be a time-traveler...?

Movies at theaters and sound quality. "Really, Ken? Is this really that important to you?"
Well, yes, for I do enjoy going to the show. And today's movie experience is quite engulfing, especially when you see an epic such as Titanic or The Hobbit or one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. You'll not see graininess in the picture, and the super-quality sound makes for an experience that we could not have comprehended in our youth. I sometimes imagine what the reaction would be like if 1930s movie-goers could see, for instance, one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies with all of the sound and picture quality of today. Just imagine their expressions...
Along the same lines, I have to say I love the idea of having a plasma 50 or 60 inch screen TV with surround-sound for the home. In other words, a home theater system. Now that would be the way to watch John Adams, Gods & Generals, Braveheart, or any of a couple dozen other historical movies (or adventure/fantasy movies such as Lord of the Rings). The high quality of watching a Blue Ray disc on such a system goes beyond anything I would have hoped for back in the 1970s.
Ah...one day maybe...

Then there are cell phones, though I only want them just as phones without the internet and all the extras. I like to have the ability to get a hold of someone while I am away from home just in case of an emergency, but there's no need to be connected to the internet every where I am. I have an old flip phone that works beautifully, thank you very much, and I do not want a smart phone or anything along those lines. I just don't.
See the phone on the far left? Yep - that's my phone! Ha! Just kidding! But not too far off...
I just want a phone for emergency purposes.

Recorded Music - - specifically on CD: The remastered Beatles box set is total heaven to me. And the newly remastered Led Zeppelin CD's are not too far behind. Both groups are, to me, the best that rock/pop - heck! music in general! - has to offer.
My remastered Beatles and Led Zeppelin CD collection: to be totally honest, it would be very hard for me to not be able to listen to this music ever again.
Then there's my Time-Life collections...oh yeah, all of the glorious recorded music decade by decade from the 1920s though the 1980s (and a little beyond) - from jazz to big band to pop to early rock to top-40 of the 1960s to coming-of-age rock to punk & new wave to country & bluegrass to nearly anything else but death metal, techno/house, and rap. Understand that I have a passion for music that would greatly affect me if I could not listen to it anymore.
At least I can play the guitar, right?

I simply love my GPS and will take it with me anytime I'm traveling to an unfamiliar area. It's a 21st century version of the Triple A trip-tik in a way, only much, much better. Plus, it tells me what time I will be arriving at my destination. By the way, yes, I did name my GPS: I named it/her 'Sadie' after the Beatles "Sexie Sadie" (off the White Album).
Sadie is always there to help me find my way!
Her British female voice harkened me right to that tune - I had no choice but to name her that.

I know that many readers here may be surprised or maybe even slightly disappointed at what I have listed, for, as you can see, I do like a lot of modern technology. I mean, this is Historical Ken we're talking about!! But, alas, I am a person of my time (whichever time that may be) and, well, so are you, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this, right? (heh heh heh)
However - remember: these are things I would miss the most, not things I couldn't live without.
And I certainly could live without them if I had to; if I was suddenly thrown back in time with no means of returning, I would obviously have no choice and would make do. But, in all reality (and let's be real about this, okay?), that ain't gonna happen. So why not enjoy the cool techie stuff of our time to help us recreate and accent the past? If it weren't for the home computer, for instance, I couldn't "publish" my historical musings here in my blog the way I do.
And I would not have been able to locate or even have known about so many of the wonderful history books available or cool historical items such as my Old North Church Lantern.
And a well-done movie can take me away to another time and place.
And it sure is nice to have my cell phone when my car breaks down. It's happened a few times and I certainly appreciate having it available.
And to come home after a particularly trying day at work and throw on my favorite tunes really can help me to unwind like little else can.
And if I'm not sure where something is located - especially a new reenactment that's way out of the way - a GPS can't be beat to get me there!
And if I happen to have a headache, nothing else helps me better than Bayer Aspirin.
And, well...I'll be honest with you - for the most part I like modern technology. It is a big part of my daily activities and, in so many ways, it has made my life easier. Just as the modern technology of our ancestors time became part of their lives.
But I can drop it like a hot potato while at a reenactment. Oh yeah. Like a hot potato. I'm not a believer in "if they'da had it, they'da used it" whatsoever, and I do get v-e-r-y upset when I see a reenactor out in the open with their cell phone in hand, not even trying to hide it.
I also have (mostly) technology-free places such as Greenfield Village or even the historical room in my own home for historical solace (aside from reenacting).
My time away from time...my solace (yes, this is the "period room" inside my house).
And that's where it counts.
Now how about you? What would you miss if you suddenly found yourself thrust into an earlier time?
Be honest...

Until next time, see you in time!



Ruth Torrijos said...

Good post, Ken. I think I agree with you on it all! Those would be very missed!

Stephanie Ann said...

I agree. Mine would be:

Modern medicine.
Ipod/recorded music

But it certainly would be an interesting social experiment to see us do without these things now that we have them. :)

Wendy Caton Reed said...

Oh I think you have nailed all of them. I sometimes think I was born a century too late, but then I realize in all honesty I would miss a lot of the "conveniences" we have learned to live with. I do travel back (in my mind) each day when I work on my hand quilting. Thank you for sharing.

Alena said...

On your comment about relations between the sexes, the puritans and Victorians worried about mixing of the sexes, but further back in history, society was much less strict about such things. Also, folks outside of heavy scrutiny: frontier communities, impoverished groups, etc. often ignored the "rules of civility" like opposite sexes can not be friends. Humans in all ages have broken the rules, we as living historians have a tougher job portraying "what life was like" when there is no one way. It is my opinion you could have had your female friends "back then" too.

Historical Ken said...

Thanks for the comments everyone!
Alena, though I do believe there were some that were not as strict, I do believe it was a socially enforced "rule" more than maybe we realize, especially in Victorian social circles (and probably in lower classes as well).
The reason I believe this is because when I was a kid back in the 1970s, close friendships between adult men & women just didn't happen. It was always men with men and women with women. Not that opposite sexes didn't ever speak to each other, but nothing even close to what is acceptable today.
Now, I've also read that in colonial times, such visitations were somewhat accepted.
I'm not saying it never happened, but Victorian times were a bit stricter in social mores than before or after.