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How Old Is Modern?

July 9, 2018

I was actually cold yesterday. That’s nice considering that Utah, along with much of the rest of the country is very warm right now. The air conditioning was making the main bathroom a little chilly as I was getting ready for church. I considered what it must have been like for people before modern conveniences. Would I be able to survive without modern inventions? I’m a fan of historical fiction. I will often imagine how I would fare as “A Conneticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court”?

Or would I do as well as my ancestors who crossed the plains with Brigham Young in 1847 on their way to founding modern Utah?I looked around my bathroom and tried to identify the modern items that I would have to learn to survive without if I were magically transported back in time.Certainly not the air conditioning. That would be gone. And with the outside temperatures touching triple digits, that would be a large adjustment.

And the electric lights. Those would be gone. Of course, they were invented over 100 years ago. Do they still count? For that matter, what about the glass that was filtering out the sunshine. Wasn’t glass an invention? Sure, it was well before the electric light. But, someone had to invent it at some point.And then I realized the problem with my mental exercise. Everything is modern. Not just cars, airplanes and computers. Literally everything had to be invented at some point. So, when searching for “olden” times, how far do you go? 100 years? 500? 1000? 10,000? You would probably have to pick a tipping point, beyond which is “modern” and before which is “ancient” or at least “old.” Likely tipping points include the discovery of electricity. Or maybe the transistor, which made modern computers possible. Gunpowder? But, the Chinese invented and used it long before the Western world. Do you pick the invention or simply the introduction into world culture?Maybe you pick a date. Two hundred years ago, the United States was just finishing the second war with Britain. Slavery was still a stain upon the national consciousness. We were still 25 years away from the Civil War. Certainly seems like a different era.Is it the lifetimes of the people we knew? My great grandfather was born in the later part of the 19th Century. I remember visiting my great grandfather, but I don’t remember much about him except the smell of pipe tabacco. Maybe modern is defined by those we have known.Perhaps it’s the invention of writing. The ability to record our histories is what seperates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Humans have been inventing since we became humans. Inventions are soem of the things that make us human.If you think about it, even clothes are an invention, albeit one that predates recorded history. And our bodies have evolved to require clothes. If that was the standard, I have to admit that, no, I could not surive without “modern” inventions. What I can’t do is tell you which of the inventions count as modern inventions or not.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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