A Look Back in Time

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February 15, 2011
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February 17, 2011

Just for the fun of it, let’s play a little game. Close your eyes and go back in time 60 years to 1950. When you think about it, it’s not really that long ago in the general scheme of things.

Now think about what has changed in your life from a communication standpoint.

First off, there are no computers, as we know them. No Internet, no computer games, no iPhones and, for the majority of us, no television.

According to most studies, the average person spends about five hours a day watching television. Now add up the time you spend on the computer and your other electronic play things, and it might easily come to eight hours.

Let’s see, eight hours sleeping, eight hours working, eight hours with the media, which leaves, uhh, about zero minutes to eat, go to the bathroom or do everyday things.

The point is, just 60 years ago from a communication standpoint, the average person had an extra eight hours to fill. Or put another way, eight more hours to do whatever he or she wanted to do.

Now let’s go back another 50 years to 1900. There are no computers, no Internet, no computer games, no iPhones, no TV and no radio.

Regarding radio, however, experts say in today’s modern world we average about two hours a day listening to that medium. Add that to the five we spend on television, and the other miscellaneous time with other media and we begin to see how different our lives are from our not-so-distant ancestors.

Now, think about the amount of time they had on their hands because there was such limited media.

Think about what they lost. Think about what they gained.

Let’s go back in time one more time, this time 60 more years to 1840. No computers, no Internet, no computer games, no iPhones, no TV, no radio, no movies, no phonographs, no telephones, no telegraph. People had books, newspapers, and magazines. That’s it. That represented their contact with the outside world.

That often represented much of their knowledge about the world. That represented their media. And if you look back just 170 years, you begin to see how we have become very different creatures from our ancestors.

Their days were filled with living life; to some extent, ours are filled with using media. Our present is a brave new world we have filled with toys to stoke our imaginations in the quest for a happier existence.

This is not a meant as a criticism as much as a critique of our present time. For the most part, it would be hard to argue that life has not improved over time, particularly in western countries. We work less, have more free time and create ways to enjoy ourselves.

Yet one has to wonder about what it was like to live in the past, whether distant or not.

Imagine, if you will, the typical 15th century man from a communication standpoint. He had no mediums other than handwritten and, to a small degree, printed books. He was largely uneducated.

He spent 24 hours of every day without media because books were for the elite. Since they were handwritten, it took an enormous amount of time to produce one, which made them expensive. The common man could not afford anything so costly. Besides, the common man had no use for books. He couldn’t read or write. Which is why no democracies existed then. You can’t have a working democracy with uneducated, uninformed people.

Of course, nowadays the great majority of us choose not to read, but rather engage ourselves with some new technology. Watching television or perusing the Internet is not as mentally strenuous as reading.

Granted, we may choose not to read primarily because we have other media to choose from, every one of which takes us to a new reality, a reality that moves us further from what could, or would, be uniquely ours if those mediums did not exist. Or if we decided not to use them quite so much as the statistics say we do.

That might mean going outside our homes more, talking to people more, perhaps even spending more time with those people.

I could be wrong, of course, but I like to think that if our ancestors could speak to us, they might tell us some old and sage advice: “Spend more time with people, less with things.”

Our ancestors’ world may have been a harsher than ours but definitely had a reality our plasma screens can never produce.