Perspectives: Dozois and Bryson

Recently on Facebook, Gardner Dozois quotes from At Home, by Bill Bryson (author of A Short History of Nearly Everything), on the closing years of the 19th century:

“From the perspective of domesticity, there has never been a more interesting or eventful time. Private life was completely transformed in the nineteenth century — socially, intellectually, technologically, hygienically, sartorially, sexually, and in almost any other respect that could be made into an adverb. Mr. Marsham was born (in 1822) into a world that was still essentially medieval — a place of candlelight, medicinal leeches, travel at walking pace, news from afar that was always weeks or months old — and lived to see the introduction of one marvel after another: steamships and speeding trains, telegraphy, photography, anesthesia, indoor plumbing, gas lighting, antisepsis in medicine, refrigeration, telephones, electric lights, recorded music, cars and planes, skyscrapers, motion pictures, radio, and literally tens of thousands of tiny things more, from mass-produced bars of soap to push-along lawn mowers.”

(And then Dozois comments himself:)

It’s striking that although we talk about the dizzying pace of change these days, our world is still basically the same in its fundamentals as it was a hundred years ago, changing in degree — better telephones, better planes — but not really in kind. Your grandfather (perhaps even your great-grandfather) would have known about telephones, indoor plumbing (in most places), electric lights, cars. Even the atomic bomb is over sixty years old. The internet is perhaps the biggest change — but Victorians also had the ability, never before experienced in human history, of being able to instantly communicate with people in other communities and even other countries, via the telegraph, which has been called “the Victorian internet,” and had many of the same impacts on society then as the internet has had on society today. The way you live your life today has fundamentally not changed as much from the turn of the 19th Century to today as it did from 1822 to the turn of the 19th Century.

I suspect that major, substantial changes are ahead in the later part of the 21st Century. Some of them we won’t like (catastrophic climate change), some will be marvels beyond our current comprehension. Whatever marvels there may be, though, I’ll willing to bet that we’ll take them for granted and maybe even be bored by them before another couple of decades go by.

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