A thousand years ago life was not that dissimilar to today.
Oh, sure, technology has made a major impact on society; computers, airplanes, cars, telephones have all made the world smaller. Information is at our fingertips. Answers to almost any of life’s questions can be revealed in seconds by searching the Internet. But the same basic functions exist today, just in different forms. And perhaps merely sped up.
The great libraries of Alexandria and other legendary repositories of past knowledge pale in comparison to today’s modern libraries, used primarily by those immersed in academia as were the ancient equivalents. Weddings and other festivities in years past lasted one to two weeks, primarily due to the rigors of travel and the pitfalls of communication. Now, since everyone can travel so quickly, the ceremonies last a fleeting day. In the past, only scholars and learned professionals penned plays and other written records. Anyone with a few hundred bucks and an account at Barnes and Noble can create a bound published book for all the world to read. Today’s Toyotas and Hondas replaced yesterday’s horse and cart, their speed, convenience, endurance, and reliability making them indispensable. As a child in Germany, my mom and I walked to the local grocery store as needed, as opposed to now driving the gas-guzzler to the modern supermarket on a weekly basis. Even the supermarkets of today offer foods unheard of a thousand years ago.
But they all still have the same purpose and functionality, even thought the methodology has changed. You can still find farmer’s markets on the occasional weekend day, peddlers offering wares to weekly regulars, restaurants, and the odd tourist or two.
Next time you visit one of these open-air markets, picture a shift in time back a thousand years. Change the clothing, remove the cars, alter the façades of the buildings, and replace the pavement with grass, dirt, or cobbled stones.
You are transformed back in history a thousand years — where the musicians of today selling their CDs are the musical entertainers of the past; the ever-present earring-salesmen behind 21st-century, glass-covered display cases were once hawking their handcrafted wares from a rickety wooden cart. You can still see the same stray dogs, the bums looking for handouts, the street performers juggling flaming batons.
Our family is visiting Walt Disney World in Florida over the next two weeks. Instead of waiting for the traveling fair to come to us, modern “conveniences” have made it possible for us to go to them. The rides are safer, the food is cleaner, the sunscreen has been well applied. Those, coupled with the marketing frenzy pushing the icon that is Mickey Mouse, defines the modern festival experience. I myself brought my laptop computer as a carry-on item, now typing by the light of a USB keyboard light instead of the more traditional quill scratches on parchment by candlelight.
Spend some time today looking at your current surroundings. Then activate the mental time warp, hurtling yourself back a millennium. Odds are that if you can filter out the “improvements” of modern technology you’d see that you would probably fit right in unnoticed.
On a visit to Notre Dame I was a bit bothered by the souvenir stands and all of the tiny little shops that crowded the side of the cathedral. Each shop selling identical cheap plaster Eiffel Towers, each shop with an almost identical Kodak film sign hanging out front. But then it occurred to me that it probably was the same when the cathedral was first built. The market sellers would have put their stands right up against the walls of the monument and hawked all sorts of mementos to the pilgrims (“tourists”) that came there.