One thing that strikes me every time I read historical fiction is the myriad difficulties those in past eras faced which are all insignificant to us now. Take for example, travel. In the Sparrowhawk series I’m reading, there is often a mention of preparing for the arduous journey from Caxton, VA (a ficticious town) to Williamsburg, VA. Judging from the described locale of Caxton, I’d say it couldn’t be more than an hour or two from Williamsburg by today’s standards. Yet in the colonial era, and actually right up until about a century ago, such a journey took the better part of a day either in the saddle or in a wagon or carriage. It was the equivalent of riding from Boston to Columbus, OH in the back of a pickup truck. Doable, but exhausting, dangerous, and very uncomfortable. And people died from easily curable maladies. Breaking a bone most often meant the loss of that limb, especially if the injury was severe enough to break the skin. Infection was rampant, as the folks then had little knowledge of sanitation.This train of thought continues into my own lifetime. I remember having just one black-and-white TV which got maybe a dozen channels. When was the last time you had to fine tune a UHF station on your TV? Do you even know the difference between UHF and VHF? When I was a kid, an Apple was something you ate or threw at a passing car. Windows were for looking through. Computers were all on Star Trek. We had no video games, no chat rooms, no email, and our parents weren’t the least bit worried about us looking at pornography or being stalked by a child molester. We HATED being stuck indoors. We were always out playing baseball, or football, or street hockey, or “war” in the woods behind our neighborhood. This isn’t to say we didn’t find a way to get ourselves in trouble. Far from it. But that trouble was also outside. There was simply nothing to do indoors and even if you did find something to do, everyone’s mother was home, so you were constantly under surveillance. If you screwed up in front of your friend’s mom, your mom knew about it before you got home.

Strangely enough, despite the fact that our folks weren’t pumping us full of drugs or monitoring everything we ate, we were all very, very healthy. I had all the usual childhood maladies; chicken pox, mumps, measels, etc. But I recovered completely from them all. I rarely had colds, and if I did, I got to stay home from school. You simply did not see sick kids in school. I never knew anyone with asthma and I never heard of a peanut allergy until about 10 years ago. No one I went to school with had ADD and certainly no one was on legal mind-altering drugs. In high school, however, a great many folks were on the not so legal kind. I started flying commercial airlines in the days when you could smoke on a plane and they served you peanuts and sandwiches even on short flights. Security was a quick walk through a metal detector if that. How times have changed.

So what’s in store for the future? Where will we be a hundred years from now? Will all kids be on some drug to alter moods or guard against a myriad of allergies? Will they look back and laugh at computers and iPods and such? Will our every move be monitored and recorded by the government? I’d like to think we’d be well into space travel, but the complete lack of progress on that front in the last 50 years has me doubting it. When we landed on the moon in 1969, I shared a common belief that we would be traveling back and forth to the moon and Mars regularly within my lifetime. Fat chance of that happening now.

I’d say overall our “progress” in the last hundred years has made our lives more complicated and faster paced. We are much better connected now. I can talk with someone on the other side of the globe and get a reply immediately. Hell, I can call that person on a cell phone and hear them as well as I can hear someone down the street. But that ability to instantly communicate has done nothing to stop misunderstandings and may have even increased the likelihood of such. We’re still fighting amongst ourselves over the most idiotic issues. So I hold little hope for the future betterment of humanity. I think we are entering a dark era where our very existence as a species will be in constant jeopardy, from disease as well as from war. I think the technological advances we’ve seen have only allowed us to act on impulse rather than taking time to really think things out. And we’ve removed the past barriers to the spread of disease and raised the resistence of viruses, infections, and bacteria to a point where the ability to control those problems is running up against the ability of our bodies to tolerate new drugs. It’s a sobering thought.

Maybe those in the past didn’t have it so bad after all.