Our pre-American forbears led lives of subsistence; work all day, every day for enough food to survive; prepare and eat the food; collapse into sleep; awake to the same exhausting challenges. This work ethic and focus are a major part of what colonists brought to the New World, driven by the chance to own the land they work, hunt and fish the wilds about them, and live free of the crushing burdens of near-slavery as serfs, peasants, and servants. They could not dream of a time that was not filled with all the efforts of pulling and putting together the pieces of life’s necessities.
Just meeting today’s needs was never enough. They could not afford to face the seasons unprepared. They had to be alert, to anticipate, prepare, learn, and plan for the cycles and dangers of nature; they had to be ready for the seasons, timing, preparing, sowing, harvesting, preserving, and storing of food: crops, fish, game, fruits; cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood, clothing, tools, weapons; sickness, injury, childbirth; shelter, stewardship of farm animals, and on, and on.
Except for a few times, when nature did not allow work, people, including children, worked, ate, and slept. Church was a mandatory break for the work-cycle. Not only did weekly Sunday services provide “leisure” time for peaceful, renewing, and moral guidance, but it also allowed for physical regeneration through rest; it fostered hygiene and discipline; it fostered family and community “leisure” and play.
This kind of all-absorbing farm life continued for most Americans until technology began its ascent. Within a dozen decades, we expanded, invented, and produced, new tools, factories, mines, roads, bridges, harbors, waterways, and railroads. Farmers and ranchers produced enough food to allow them to sell it to non-farmers, who earned the money in towns and cities.
“Money-crops” such as cotton, tobacco, wool, hides, and furs, fed the textile mills, the leather tanneries, and tobacconists; cash was used for things the farmer could not produce easily, such as cloth, dye, needles, pins, shoes, glass, pots, pans, jars, jugs, clocks, medicines, spices, firearms, gunpowder, swords, axes, shovels, scythes, harnesses, chains, hinges, nails, buttons, buckles, candles, lamps, and things we needed then that we no longer remember.
Non-farm work had start and stop times. Workers arrived at a certain time, worked and ate at certain times, and left at certain times. That meant the rest of the day was up to the workers to use as they chose. Holidays became expected days of rest. Merchants tailored shop hours to worker schedules, which gave them down time as well.
The Great Depression and World War II accelerated three trends: migration to cities, training in trades, and advanced education.
They also introduced and promoted the first virtual technologies, telephone, phonographs, movies, radio, and television. Costs, broadcast time and reception areas limited the time people spent talking, listening, and watching. But the attraction was clearly evident. People would plan their days and evenings around their favorite news and entertainment programs. Trips to the movies were considered treats.
The return of prosperity brought expanding demand for all the virtual technologies. One limit on these technologies was location: phonographs, telephones, radios, movies, and televisions were locations people had to attend to use. One exception for police and fire fighters: two-way radios mounted in vehicles. World War II saw the advent of “walkie-talkies,” the conceptual and technical precursors of modern cellphones.
Car radios, and the transistor radios released the listener from having to find a radio, to having a radio with them
The 1950’s, and 60’s introduced computers to American Business. Once again, computers were locations, entombed in rarefied environments defended by physical security, and complete ignorance of the general populous.
The 1980’s advent of “personal computers;” which were portable, with some effort. All that was missing was connecting computers through telephone systems – the Internet, and connecting radios to telephones – cellular phones. The catalyst for the connectivity we enjoy today was the cellphone, which erased any connection between phones and locations, and made people the locations for telephone numbers.
Televisions were limited by the stations that broadcast in their reception area. Three major national TV networks evolved, connected by satellite to the world. Connecting televisions directly to satellites, coaxial cables, and now the Internet, brought us out of “network-tv” into the 24/7 “cable-tv” era.
Once cellphones connected to the Internet and television, where we watch movies, we arrived to today, where the distinctions have almost completely blurred. Likewise have our senses of reality.
Now, “friends” are not people we know, “social media” is anonymous and often anti-social. “Gamers” give a whole new meaning to “WoW,” spending days lashed to their computers, dispensing with bathroom breaks, installing Mountain Dew, refrigerators, and cutting pizza delivery slots in their doors.
We already have an entire generation living in basements. What is next? Maybe evolution will soon give our species extended narrow thumbs for “Texting,” and dimmer judgement for “Sexting.” Maybe someday, all our ogling will be “Googling.” Is the “Zombie Apocalypse” upon us with the living “undead?” I wonder if Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence will converge into caskets, from which we never need emerge? Will we live to see the rise of VARZI?