It hit me the other day, how we call ourselves “civilized” and people before us “primitive”. How we consider ourselves to have advanced and progressive. How we just assume that we’re smarter and better than those of the yesteryears. I used to agree—and, don’t get me wrong, we have achieved some pretty amazing things by God’s grace—but I do wonder if we’re deluding ourselves.
Machines do everything now—they make our clothes, they package our food, they grind our grain, they churn our butter, they milk our cows, they weave our cloth, they print our books, they fix, well, everything, they even draw our pictures and make our music. Is all of this wrong? No, not necessarily, but I wouldn’t exactly say it makes us more advanced.
Which person has more know-how—the farm girl who can bake a cake from scratch (real scratch, not just not from a mix, but with ingredients grown on the plot of land she lives on) or the iPhone-sporting, texting-expert city girl who can read instructions off a box? Please note, I’m not knocking down city girls (especially since I’m one by trade, although not at heart), I’m just trying to show that it’s really more impressive to do everything by yourself than to have machines do it for you.
They say knowledge is power, and if that’s true, I wonder if we are weaker than we ever have been before. Most of us don’t know how to do squat, compared to humans a hundred years ago, to people on the Oregon trail, to people during the Renessiance, to people in ancient Romen and Greece and Egypt and Mesopotamia. We know more about the world, maybe—though we are starting to realize just how much those ancient peoples knew science-wise—but we certainly don’t know how to do much.
And there’s this too: Do we know things like the satisfaction of working with your hands and being tired at the end of a day of intense physical labor? Do we know the pleasure of looking at a house or a wagon or a dress and knowing you made it? Do we know the truth that people are more important the promotions, that family is more important than fame, that love of learning is more important than good grades? Do we know that how we touch people will last forever but how much we earn will fade like morning mist? These things, people used to know, and it is these things that we have forgotten.
I remember reading about one of the early presidents—John Adams, I believe. I remember being astounded by his education, by how much he had to know by the time he was twelve. Multiple languages, high-level math, comprehensive history, numerous realms of science—and the guy was a pre-teen. That isn’t even mentioning his writing and oratory skills. It made me realize that, no, we’re not advanced. We’ve progressed? I don’t think so.
I suppose a lot of it depends on your definition of progress. Today, it seems to mean more technology. I feel disappointed—I guess I thought progress was more than that. Yes, I thought it was learning more about the world and how to utilize what it offers, but I thought it included gaining more practical knowledge and stretching our minds and blessing others in better ways. Does technology do that? To some extent, yes, and then to another, it directly destroys all that. I’d even say that it destroys more than it builds up.
Please know, I’m not bashing all modern inventions (thank you, Gutenberg, for the printing press, and yeah, thank you, Steve Jobs, for Apple), but I think it’s important to realize the cost at which they come. It’s important to recognize what they’re taking from us, what we’re giving up for them. And it’s important to be humble—not only to point to God as the One who’s let us get to where we are today, but also to admit that we’re not as great as we think. Maybe we haven’t come as far as we suppose. Maybe—and I know this is a shocker—we could learn from those in the past, from the “primitives”. Maybe we’re the primitives after all.