This post is a part of my series on The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.
The moment man begins to take thought of the morrow he passes out of the Garden of Eden into the vale of anxiety; the pale cast of worry settles down upon him; greed is sharpened; property begins; and the good cheer of the ‘thoughtless’ native disappears.
At the same time by cooking, by softening tough foods, reduced the need of chewing, and began that decay of the teeth which is one of the insignia of civilization.
We see new technologies worsening our lives every day. Phones have closed people off from the world around them, the free internet has shortened our attention span with 140-character bits of link-bait, modern medicine treats symptoms better than ever before but simultaneously kills us with side-effects, and debt has deluded people into living lives of servitude.
All this for ‘progress’.
Of course, none of this is new. Technology and its issues have always existed. Media has always battled for peoples’ attention. Medicine has always had terrible side-effects. Debt has been around for millennia, and it’s been bankrupting families and states for millennia. People thought the light bulb was ‘a recipe for total social chaos’ because it would ‘inform miscreants that women and children were home’.1
Socrates hated the idea of writing because he thought writing would prevent people from remembering anything. Luckily, Plato rebelled.
I find the dynamic between technology and health an interesting one. The Socrates example was the oldest example I was aware of, but Durant goes back even further, connecting an intangible ‘technology’ to the miserable human condition: planning for tomorrow.
Planning is really more of a mindset than a technology now, but back then storing some berries in a cool, dark room was technology.
How often do we make that tradeoff? How much time do we spend making that tradeoff? How much of our time is spent away from living today in order to live tomorrow? An overwhelmingly large amount of time, I bet.
But we all do it, thinking we’re bettering our lives. Most people are miserable. But look at the world: it’s amazing. Progress! Progress everywhere!
We’re such a selfless people.
1 from Clay Johnson’s Information Diet; I’m not sure where this originally came from.