Our Modern World

I sometimes wonder what the founding mothers and fathers of our country might think of our modern world. It seems that some (Franklin and Jefferson) would revel in it. Others might be skeptical. Consider that a flight from Philadelphia to Boston takes only 90 minutes, a journey that took John Adams the better part of two weeks. Of course, after factoring in the time it takes to find the best fare online, the commute to the airport and the fight for a half-decent parting space, the crowded shuttle ride from the parking lot to the terminal, the lines at the security checkpoint, the delays in boarding because the aisles are blocked by passengers fighting for overhead space, the wait at baggage claim in Boston because you lost the fight, the airline lost your luggage, the Uber to the hotel through the nightmare that is Boston traffic, it probably seems like two weeks. Maybe the founders wouldn’t be that impressed after all.

There are other modern conveniences that I think the founders would appreciate, chief among them, the modern word processor, or for that matter, typewriter. The founders were particularly prolific. John Quincy Adams, for instance, wrote more than 14,000 pages in his diary alone. Fourteen thousand pages. I am drafting this essay longhand, and here toward to the bottom of page one, my hand already feels cramped and ready to give up the ghost. Certainly, a word processor would have been a boon to our prolific forefathers and mothers. If I think about it, I have probably banged out 14,000 pages worth of email messages. On the other hand, 13,000 pages of those messages were probably completely unnecessary, fluff and filling enabled by the technology that kept my hands from getting cramped and tired. So perhaps the founders were better off with pen and ink after all. It forced a concision in thought and expression that can’t readily be equalled by our lazier modern methods.

So cross of travel and computer technology. Modern medicine–that would be the key to impressing our founders. Something as simple as aspirin for a headache, or penicillin for an infection would be seen by those who regularly gathered in places like Philadelphia as a great invention. After all, these are people who had to flee the city in the summers when Yellow Fever reared its head. There was no other way to treat it, no vaccine to prevent it. The city shut down, and those who could afford to do so, fled to the countryside.

That said, I think that if the founders had a look at our modern medicine, they’d sneer and roll their collected (and uncorrected) eyes. “You are no better of than we,” they would say, the scorn dripping from their words. “You mock us for fleeing from Yellow Fever. But we’ve read your recent newspapers, and we’ve watched your so-called news programs. With this latest virus running amuck in your modern world, the best advice your medical science can offer is to wash your hands and avoid touching your face. How’s fleeing the town during an outbreak any worse than this advice? You really haven’t come as far as you think you have.”

Modern world! Phooey!