‘Times Were Much Simpler Then’

I’m listening to a wonderful interview (video at end of post) with historian David McCullough, whose most famous work is probably his John Adams biography. Don’t let the title fool you; in this hour-long interview he talks about much more than John Adams. So many wonderful things about knowing and appreciating people and events of the past, as well as how it ought to be taught. He also mourns the loss of skill with our own language, and thus the ability to communicate effectively and beautifully. (The beauty/art is what makes it effective, in my opinion.)

Somewhere around the half-way point he says he hates when people say, “Times were much simpler then.” He exclaims, “No they weren’t! How would you like to deal with…” and he lists plagues and other hardships, including just the daily life of people of the past. He acknowledges that the past and present may be different, but neither is simpler than the other.

It is interesting that we have this view of the past being simpler, but if we stop to think about it, so much of technology — possibly most of technology — has come about from efforts to make things simplier, easier, less time-consuming, less human energy-consuming. So shouldn’t the current times be the simplest ever? And yet our first impulse is to think that the past was simpler.

Mr. McCullough is right. Life of the past has differences from life of today but was not simpler. It seems what we’ve done is just exchange one set of simplicities for another, one set of difficulties for another.

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.  ~ Ecclesiastes 7:10

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.  ~ Ecclesiastes 1:9

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