Sunday, April 12, 2020
Covid: Living in the Pre-Industrial Age
Probably not the best time for a history lesson, but this bizarre period of “sheltering in place” brings the industrial revolution to mind.
Until then, most people worked from home. Centuries before Zoom or Skype existed, our ancestors worked on farms or in artisan shops within their homes—making clothing, shoes, books, and other items.
The idea of Mommy and Daddy heading off to the office was absurd.
It didn’t exist.
What is called the Industrial Revolution, formally known as the First Industrial Revolution, describes the period of transition to new manufacturing processes in Europe and America. Historians identify that massive change as occurring from around 1760 to the early 1800s.
Processes ranging from machine production, chemical manufacturing, and iron smelting emerged, quickly eclipsing these artisan-like businesses. Steam and water power operated the machines, ultimately giving rise to the mechanized factory system. The evolutionary leap brought with it an unprecedented rise in population.
Those of you reading while taking a break from sewing masks or other PPEs might experience a burst of self-esteem when you learn that textiles were the dominant industry of that first revolution. It then morphed into factories making all kinds of things and facilitating the ongoing exploitation of workers.
With our populist, arguably narcissistic viewpoint here in America, you might have thought the US led the way. Not true. The UK created most of the patents associated with machine production—at least during that initial industrial shift.
Almost every element of everyday life was affected by it—much like we’re experiencing with this Covid-19 crisis these days—but in the reverse. Many economists believe it heralded the gradual increase in the standard of living around the globe—a trend continuing to this day although, perhaps, not any more.
Risking boring readers, so I shall be brief, aren’t you curious about the second industrial revolution?
Steel is typically identified as the first of several new areas for industrial mass-production characterizing the Second Industrial Revolution. A method for the mass manufacturing of steel was invented in the 1860s. Sir Henry Bessemer, yes, a Brit (!), invented a furnace capable of converting molten iron into steel.
Our industrial regression is not without its gifts:
We are certainly benefiting from the remarkable reductions in air pollution in the many great cities of the world.
Presumably, shut-down factories are sending less toxins into the waters.
Traffic has come to a near stand-still.
Sadly, I doubt we’ll see any reduction in population, except for those who succumb to Covid-19. A contemporary philosopher offered this brilliant concept:
There are two businesses in life:
The business of making money and; the business of making love.
Nearly one-third of the global population are now struggling with the former.
For young couples sheltering in place, hmmm, sheltering could become a new word for, well, you know what.
Expect a Covid Population Surge in Winter of 2020.
Meanwhile, hope this lightens the heart of some of you who, like me, are working mostly in a basement downstairs.
How I miss the fifteen-minute barrier of the drive home!
Instead, working underground like some kind of a human mushroom, my days end with my closing up the laptop, filing away papers, making a few notes and then running up the backstairs of the house.
Only seconds later, and with no room for a mental channel change, I proclaim:
Honey, I’m home!
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