Is Life for us Better than it was for our Forefathers?
To try to answer this question, we had better go back in thought about two hundred years, say to about the middle of the 18th Century ; that is, before the great changes began that have made the modern world what it is to-day. Let us see what life was for our forefathers in those days.
To get a picture of their lives, we must cut out many of the things which are so familiar and necessary to us to-day that we wonder how men could ever have got on without them. Take travel, for instance. In the time of our forefathers, there were no railways or steamships or aeroplanes, no bicycles or motor-cars, or even good roads. They travelled slowly on horseback or in carts and carriages, and sailing ships. There was no postal system, so letters were rare and costly luxuries; no telegraph, no telephone, no wireless or broadcasting. Nearly all goods were hand-made, as there was no steam-driven machinery to manufacture multitudes of cheap goods. Houses were lit by candles or lamps, for there was no electric light or gas. Of medical science there was little or nothing, and public sanitation was unknown. In consequence dirt and disease were rife in village and town. There were no fully equipped hospitals, no trained nurses, and few qualified doctors. Education ? That was the privilege of the rich. Most of the poor could neither read nor write. Books were few and expensive. As to amusements, there were no cinemas and no gramophones. Life in those days must have been dull and slow.
So far, then, the answer seems to be an emphatic affirmative. Surely with all these advantages, and many, many more that cannot even be mentioned, our life to-day must be incomparably better in every way than the life of our poor forefathers. No doubt, in comfort, convenience, interest, variety, general health and well-being, we have the advantage.
But is it really so ? Are we really happier than our forefathers? I doubt it. In this mechanical age life is all noise and bustle, hurry and racket, roar and rush. There is a fever in our blood. We are restless and unsatisfied, ever seeking for some new thing. We have lost the quiet, and the solid pleasures, of the old days. And the sense of security has gone. There is fear in our hearts. The machines our science has given us threaten to destroy us. Bombing aeroplanes and poison gases make war a terror. And war may be on us any moment : the WORLD WAR, that will destroy our boasted civilization. We dance on the crumbling brink of a volcano.