Sunday, May 31, 2009

Knowledge We've Gained and Lost

I was thinking about technology the other day and how wonderful it is to have a world of information at my fingers via the Internet and Google.

When I wanted to make rhubarb-strawberry crumble, but didn't feel like sifting through my cookbooks for a recipe, I simply typed it into Google and found a recipe that worked for me.

When my son was hit by a baseball and complaining of serious rib pain, I looked up the symptoms for cracked ribs on the internet, and since they pretty much matched his symptoms, brought him to the emergency room (where, luckily his ribs turned out to be merely bruised.)

Want to know if the guy in one movie was in another, or when a book was written, or when the next book in a series is coming out. The internet provides the answers.

Does this make us smarter, I wonder, then people who lived a hundred years ago?

But then I think of the things a woman if a middle class neighborhood in a town in New Jersey would probably have been able to do 100 years ago, that I really can't lay claim to now.

She would have known how to take a chicken in the backyard and turn it into dinner. I prefer my chicken boned and skinless and if presented with a chicken in the backyard I think I would switch to eggs on the menu as opposed to the meat.

She would have been able to make clothing for her children - and possibly for herself and her husband as well. In my defense I did make my daughter a sun dress once. She was four. She's twelve now.

She would have been able to can and preserve food and it would have been a part of her regular seasonal chores.

She would have knit hats and mittens and scarves for her family. (I did crochet hats this year).

She would have a better understanding of natural cures for things. Instead of reaching for the bottle of medicine she would have concocted a poultice of some sort.

Not to say that there aren't people these days who do these very things; but most of them (especially regarding the chicken or canning) live in more rural conditions than I do. And would the woman from back then have been at a disadvantage in many other ways - of course.

But what are we losing?

When reading The Swiss Family Robinson I felt vastly inferior to that old-fashioned family that could be stranded on an island and immediately know what plants to eat for food and how to build themselves a liveable structure. Should I find myself in that situation, I'm much more likely to die of starvation or exposure. (So, I'll try to avoid that situation - why I never auditioned for Survivor)

There was another book I read once, The Harvester, by Gene Stratton Porter (and I could have long and lengthy discussions about this book, but I'll spare you) where the main character collects herbs for medicines. Is there anyone who knows that sort of thing anymore? Who can make usable medicines out of herbs growing in a garden. Is this information that was passed down from generation to generation to generation and is now simply not needed anymore.

It all just makes me wonder, what have we lost? If a modern, urban American, were left to live by his or her wits without Internet access or stores. Could we do it? And how much would we have to re-learn that our grandparents simply took for granted?


PJ Hoover said...

I wouldn't trade. No way!
We did visit the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse at Disney, so I could model my home after that!

Christine M said...

Well, if I could have a home like the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse at Disney - that would be cool. Can't see myself building it, however.

Vivian said...

Great post, Chris! There is much to be said about technology, but we have lost much. Though, I'm glad we don't need to use necessaries.

Christine M said...

Vivian, I totally agree that indoor plumbing is a wonderful thing. All modern conveniences are. That my "dinner" is not currently wandering around my backyard is a wonderful thing to me!