If we think of the majority of Americans from the mid-nineteenth century we could expect their answer to the question, “How do you spend your average day?” to go something like this: “I ran a small farm, which kept me busy during planting and harvesting. Other time was spent fixing things, going to church, talking to town-folk.” Without electricity, telephones, cars, or even uniform ownership of clocks, what else would we expect?
Even with the above preface, my students, over the years, have been stunned by just how thoroughly our successive innovations have not only changed the kinds of jobs we hold, but redefined the ideas of home, family, and pass times. It goes much deeper even than that. Our inventions have redefined human relationships, including what constitutes affection, trust, dependability, neighborliness and so much more.
Over the course’s five weeks, we will examine the most profound changes to human culture once innovations like mechanical timekeeping or mass-production became mainstays. Indeed, the past is a foreign country from which we are all immigrants into a new land.