Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The subtle demands of modern life

I’ve been thinking many times about how our lives, even though in many ways they are easier and safer than the lives of our ancestors and we have more free time, are so much more fast-paced and hectic, and people don’t seem to be happier. All the wonderful modern conveniences save us time, no doubt, but they also create higher expectations which we sometimes find difficult to fulfill – and I wouldn’t say we always should.

Take for example such a wonderful thing as a washing machine. In the past, doing the washing meant that an entire day was supposed to be dedicated to it. All the scrubbing and rubbing and wringing and washing were done by hand, and it took a lot of time. Now, all we have to do is keep two hampers (generally), one for lighter-colored fabrics and one for dark fabrics, wait for one of them to fill (which sometimes takes a surprisingly short time), throw it into the wash and then into the dryer if you have one, or on the clothesline if you don’t, or if you are lucky and the weather is good for drying. Then fold, put away and you’re done – one of my favorite chores, personally.

On the other hand – and I’m saying this in full awareness that I wouldn’t want to do without a washing machine! – this created far higher expectations regarding the cleanliness of clothes. In the past, people had fewer garments, and it was acceptable for children to wear clothing that was a bit stained or patched and frayed here and there. Now, we’re all expected to look neat and clean at all times, which is sometimes difficult with little ones. We have piles of clothes which take up a lot of closet space, and a lot of time to fold and sort through with each change of seasons. So I thought a bit about it and figured that it’s OK for children to walk around with stains, at least until the end of the day. :o)

Cooking from scratch is another similar story. In the past, people grew a lot of their own food, and most of the food was homemade. Women used to cook much more, yes, but it doesn’t mean they served elaborate meals! In most families, people were happy with a simple meal, such as soup and homemade bread, or bread, cheese and homemade canned vegetables for a snack. Now cooking is easier, which allows us to think up more varied menus – and it’s nice but can be time-consuming.

Transportation and communication is another example. Just a century ago, most people didn’t go out that much, except for working in the field or garden, or to the local store; visiting was done mostly between those who were within walking distance, and letter-writing was a slow and relaxing activity, quite unlike emailing, text-messaging, Facebook Wall posts or Twittering. Relationships weren’t as numerous, but they were deeper, slower, more personal and meaningful. Quite simply, going somewhere or contacting someone required effort, and therefore people only bothered if it was important.

Now, with the wonders of easy transportation, we have the opportunity to visit far more places, but we also have the pressure and expectation to find the time for many different activities. It’s easier to communicate, and so we are expected to keep up with many, many social obligations and people who aren’t, in the long run, meaningful in our lives. In the past, it was considered normal to wait for a letter for weeks and months, and people didn’t forget each other. Now, you are pressured to answer emails on the same day you got them, or you are “out of touch”. All of this pulls us in many different directions.

It used to be common knowledge that a day means toil and busyness from sunrise till sunset, but the work was unhurried and not so stressful. The question to be asked, is why should we try so hard to save time, if that time is immediately torn apart by new things we are supposed to be doing, not all of which are conductive to our emotional health?

Simpler slower living allows more involvement of children in daily chores, rather than segregating them in “age-appropriate” activities with little meaning. This is why I don’t want to get a bread maker – I like to create the opportunity for Shira (and in the future, both girls and hopefully other children we may have) to knead by hand. Same goes for mixing by hand rather than with an electric beater.

As a family, we’re not always out and about, wasting gas. And I can sometimes answer an email after a few weeks, even if it makes me look like someone from another planet. I do want to retain some of that slower pace in my life. Sometimes, less is really and truly more.


Anonymous said...

"Sometimes, less is really and truly more.
" Amen!! I heard these words often from my mother for much of my life. The more you have, the more you have to take care of, eat up your time and energy. Happiness comes with knowing when you have "enough" , but not so much as to complicate your life and steal your time.

Jethan said...

The fast-pace of life is crazy, but what's really interesting is that it's not a new problem! I have a book called Around the Tea Table that was published in 1895, and one part of it talked about how people are too busy and would burn themselves out and that they need to relax more. I have to wonder what they would think of modern society.

AnneK said...

It was interesting to read your take on this. I don't think about it like that especially since I know first hand, very well, what is life without a washing machine, and even water for 2 days when I visit my home country. :) And I hear you on the stained clothing. I let Neil walk around with those when he is home, although he is dressed to the nines when he out. I can't help it, such fun to dress little kids :)

Kate said...

I LOVE your attitude and outlook on life! What a breath of fresh air! :)

Hilde said...

You are so right! We have so many gadgets which save us time, and still we always ae in a hurry. And this is because the expectations are so much higher than they used to be. As a child, I had to take care that my school clothes did not get dirty, because I had to wear them at least two or three days in a row. So I changed immediately into older clothes when I got home, and so did my father when he came home from work. In summer and autumn, our meals through the week were more or less the same: Vegetable soup (whatever grew in the garden) and bread. Now some of the younger mothers I know cook a different meal for everybody in the family, and the washing mashine runs twice a day, six days a week, for a family of four. And of course, everybody complains that they don´t have enough time - and money.
Another thing in the kitchen is that children can help at a very young age when everything is made by hand, but when you ise all the electric "helpers", it it too dangerous for them, so they can only wath their mother switching machines on and off without understanding what is going on.

Lea said...

Even though I work outside of my home, I'm totally with you on this!

Dinner 'from scratch' and preserving are normal at my house (and were with my working mom when I was growing up), as well as letter writing. A quiet cup of coffee or tea with a neighbor was - and still is! - a welcome treat.

I don't have a cell phone, twitter or Facebook account and often people think I'm a bit "crazy." That's okay. I spent 3 hours having a leisurely breakfast with a friend the other day and I'll take that relationship any day over the 'friend' who won't talk to me anymore becuase I'm not on facebook!

Your comment about bread made me smile - kneading bread is my absolute favorite household chore! No way will I get a bread machine! :)


Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,

I call this the "Fukuoka effect". Masanobu Fukuoka was a Japanese farmer who developed the original no-till method for grain farming (a natural method, not the chemical-laden method used for the most part in my country, the US). You can learn more about him here: The thing I have always found fascinating is that once he rejected mechanized farming and the artificial chemicals that usually go with it, and learned how to work with nature, he had time in the evenings to spend with his family, write poetry, and still made enough to support his family. In the meantime, his neighbors were working with tractors up into the night (with headlights) and wearing gas masks in the fields just to make a profit.

Analytical Adam said...

Mrs. Anna wrote:>It used to be common knowledge that a day means toil and busyness from sunrise till sunset, but the work was unhurried and not so stressful.

Common on, Mrs. Anna. Stop thinking this way. You really believe it was "unstressful". Adam in the bible it was toil and very hard work. Read Genesis. Maybe your husband has an easy job but most men don't and never did.

Mrs. Anna worte:>Simpler slower living allows more involvement of children in daily chores, rather than segregating them in “age-appropriate” activities with little meaning. This is why I don’t want to get a bread maker – I like to create the opportunity for Shira (and in the future, both girls and hopefully other children we may have) to knead by hand. Same goes for mixing by hand rather than with an electric beater.

I really disagree as it seem you just want to more difficult yourself because you don't to think about anyone else when there are so many problems affecting the Jewish nation. You're solution is to pray to God and ignore the inventions of man when God put you on this earth to help this world. If you just want to pray to God and not help society there isn't much of a purpose for your existence if God could do it all without you and you're teaching your girls to be the same it is an insult to the world around you Mrs. Anna. I couldn't disagree more. Judaism is not the Amsih Mrs. Anna. And sadly we have adopted many practices of other religions. Again it just shows more of you and likely your community hatred towards men and inventions that have made the world easier. Unless there is a real issue with doing it by machine leads to some problem. Maybe you could show your girls how it was once done and how inventions made it easier. That would be more appropriate in my opinion. Judaism is not being Amish and hating the inventions of man that has made life easier.

I went on an interview with a Jewish man who just wanted to do things a certain way for his own ego and to be honest with you I would take another job before this one because there is no reason to do something in an inefficient way. It shows hatred toward man Mrs. Anna. And this nonsense that there was no stress in the past is such propaganda Mrs. Anna. I'm sorry your community (I know it isn't just you Mrs. Anna) has such hatred towards men and inventions. It would be a letter lessen to teach your girls how inventions have given us more time to be concerned about others in cases like yours. You would rather not think about others.
In my own life I find people that want to be inefficient to think they are holy to be self righteous arrogant people.

Anonymous said...

Interesting points, all.

With availability of microwaveable meals, I was very picky to ensure that the content was low-fat and high in complex carbohydrates, but it created expectations that my own creations were not as uniquely creative as the colorfully wrapped processed food spectre could be prepared in 10 min. on high.

Clothing tossed into the washing machine requires substantial durability to endure the exposure to automatic rinse and wring cycles and high phosphates, whiteners, and bleach.

Using the world wide web to obtain information at the click of button forestalls the time necessary to use a dictionary and good set of encyclopedias... .

Unfortunately all this fast-pace sometimes veils the need for actual work to exercise, to attempt to understand in communications, to actually spend time, and forces unrealistic expectations of children who would ordinarily wish to assimilate their thoughts before action!

Inca said...

Haven't been in to comment in a while. Enjoyed this post. Reminded me that everything we take on (because we "can") has a price we pay in what we are giving up for it.

Samara said...

The washing machine (a favorite applicane of mine) seemed to do away with the idea of the housedress and apron, too. Pinafores for small children? Likewise. It's much easier to keep one's good clothes neat & clean if you wear something over them (or instead of them) at home, and then they don't require as much washing. Wearing house slippers instead of shoes at home keeps the floors and shoes from receiving so much wear, too.

Sharon said...

So true. The hustle and bustle of our lives today do not necessarily mean they are more meaningful. By the way, thanks for telling us about Kosher Casuals. I ordered a skirt from there and love it.

Kimberly said...

I never thought about the pressure to look perfect coming from washing machines, but it makes perfect sense, especially little ones.

Analytical Adam said...

Anyway to make a quick statement I think you're blaming the wrong area. You may be right. There may be more stress then let us say 200 years ago.

If that is the case the reason is there is more socialism in Western countries (which I would include Israel in that) then there was 200 years ago where a man didn't have to compete with women (some less qualified) for a job or have his wages be less to pay for stuff that the government forces companies to pay women.

If we didn't have the socialist policies of today I think we would less stress then 200 years ago to give an example. I think you are blaming the blameless and something that has made our life LESS STRESSFUL. The think that is causing stress today is socialism being forced down people's throats which makes life much more difficult for most and only benefits a few that are politically correct and like to pander to women and minorities because they are afraid of other men and competing with other men.

Audrey said...

I love simple living! We've been slowly moving to simple living the last few years and I love it. We only have one vehicle, and that forces me and our two children to stay home more while my husband works, which allows us to live a slow life. Although it would be nice to have a second car, I love being forced to live a slow, simple life!

Anonymous said...

What a blessing to read. I am a work at home mom of three kids and a blessed wife. This is my heartbeat in more ways that one.

God bless you for sharing this with your readers.

---Gina W.

The Professor's Wife said...

I recently watched a program called the "1900's House". It made me long for simpler days where home and family were the focus and hard work was done, but it was still simple and slow-paced. You would enjoy it!

Anonymous said...

we're without a washingmachine for the moment...have been for going on3 weeks now. i've been doing laundry by hand in a bucket in the tub (snowy and frigid outside) but drying in the dryer (thankfully). i am finding that i really don't mind too much doing laundry that way. a neighbor is generously allowing us to do sheets, towels, denim items/sweaters once a week at her house. it does make for some re-thinking of our modern ideas about clothing.

Katie V. said...

Completely agree! Well put Anna. I just wrote something similar on my blog (The Hand That Rocks The Cuna)! God bless you!!

Lady Anne said...

Your remark about wearing clothes that have stains made me chuckle. I teach Early American History (mostly mid-1700s) and the students are astounded that people wore clothes more than once. When I was growing up I wore a blouse one day "by itself", hung it back in the closet inside out, and then wore it again later under a sweater or jumper. Everybody did. My students just about have convulsions! (Hanging a garment inside out allows it to air and also tells me it's been worn and needs to go in the wash this time.)

Stealth Jew said...

Lady Anne,

In Canada I grew up wearing clothes more than once and so do my kids and husband. If it doesn't smell and it isn't stained, it's good to go again.

Otherwise, this entry appears to be afflicted with an awful lot of romanticism. People used to spend several days a week on laundry, time they couldn't use for other things -- such as childcare, which was a much lower priority.

Adam, I do my bread by hand since my Kitchen Aid motor gave up the ghost. Obliging husband gave me a new Kitchen Aid, but I'm now convinced that it probably isn't up to bread making. It's hard work though -- six loaves at a go and a lot of energy.

And I was never a cellphone fan, but my husband got me an iphone and I am a convert.

CappuccinoLife said...

So true Anna.

I noticed this when we lived in dh's country, which is a very impoverished developing nation.

Fresh clothes every day (or more than once a day, even)? Daily (or more) hot showers? Not happening. Not even possible.

Now, there are other stressors there, especially for the poor. So it's important not to romanticize. But being relatively privelaged and having the resources to avoid the major stressors, once I got over the culture shock, it was great to be free of the "musts" of modern Western life. People here are *so* sensitive about how others look and smell, and I noticed my sensitivity changes depending on which culture I'm immersed in.

It would be nice if we could find a balance in this culture.

Jo said...

I am very thankful for my washing machine, drier, vacuum cleaner, toaster, oven and hot plates, microwave etc and they do make my life so much easy and less stressful. No thanks to going back in time to lighting the fire before breakfast so I can heat the water. Life was very tough for many women and I am sure they would have loved to have had inventions that would have helped them. My life is far less stressful around the home. I like being able to turn on my kettle before breakfast, it is much easier than any other generation.

And I can cook from scratch thanks to my freezer that stores all my food and the inventions such as canning, don't look back with "rose colored glasses " as life wasn't simple at all. It was back breaking and hard.

Lena said...

Love the post! I feel the same way about many issues that you mentioned. I let my girls run around in dirty clothes, why change them they will get dirty again?:) By having so much clothes, and toys, and other things in life, we tend to not cherish them, take things for granted. Its a sad part of life. The less we have the simple life gets.