All the discussion we’ve had about modern life and technology sometimes makes us forget what the past is like. If we take the ongoing pandemic for example, even 20 years ago we would’ve had a lot of difficulty keeping our society running. We wouldn’t just be talking about working remotely or Zoom meetings; the technology back then simply wouldn’t have been able to support the workarounds we have today.
Even 10 years ago, my cell phone was just a phone – it had physical keys and could make calls but that was pretty much it.
So, we’re actually quite lucky to be living in this day and age with so much technology at our disposal.
However, people who lived in the past weren’t so lucky. As I got interested in learning about what life was like in the past, I came across this channel called Absolute History.
All of their videos go over some historical topic, for example, what kinds of jobs there were during the black death, or how labourers built 16th century ships by hand. They’re all really interesting subjects, and it shows sometimes the lengths that people had to go through to survive in those times.
Probably my favourite is their ‘Hidden Killers’ series.
During the Victorian Era, and even through the 1950s, there was quite a lot of new inventions, some of which are still being used today. However, as those technologies were in their infancy, people didn’t really quite understand them completely. A great example is asbestos.
Today, it’s banned in many countries for the fibres that can cause cancer in your lungs, but it was commonly used in furniture or in building materials because it had fire retardant properties.
This was the case with many technologies – over time we’ve learned to either avoid them or use them safely, but back then they didn’t have the knowledge.
This series goes over some common Victorian Era inventions (and other periods as well) and shows how they actually ended up becoming quite deadly.
There were so many bad ideas that would make you cringe, like having an electric tablecloth – be careful with that soup!
Probably one of the more surprising things that I learned from this was how radium (which is radioactive and mostly used for cancer therapy today), was used in some consumer goods like watches, because it glowed in the dark. This of course, led to many deaths from cancer especially among those that were assembling and painting the watches.
Of course, that seems crazy to us to today, but back then there really wasn’t any benchmark for what can or can’t be done. Of course, the profit motive also has a hand to play – for example, leaded gasoline was phased out mostly because of emissions regulations, rather than for health reasons.
This got me thinking, what else is there that we haven’t figured out yet? Or haven’t yet bothered to get rid of because there’s no better alternative?
If I had to speculate it would probably be something to do with spending so much time on our digital devices. Heart disease is already one of the leading causes of death in Canada, aside from cancer, and I’m sure physical inactivity might have something to do with it. The hardest part is that it’s sometimes unavoidable; I have to sit down to get my work done, and I can only take so much time off in a day to do other things.
Regardless, I sure don’t want to see a video called Hidden Killers of the 21st century. Or maybe I would – that would certainly be another rabbit hole.
Link to channel here.