Are Today’s Conveniences Really Good For Us?

Part I -The Miracle of Indoor-Plumbing and Better Health October 16, 2002

Earth has been around for about a few billion years now. Life progressed pretty slowly in that time and change was minimal over the centuries. That is, until, the 20th century! It’s been said there hasn’t been as much change on Earth in the last few billion years as there has been in the last 100 years. Hard to believe, but true! If we go back and take a peak in the history books, we can see several wheels in motion that were the catalyst for this explosion of change. All that change created amazing conveniences but are today’s conveniences really good for us?

About 100 years ago, probably around the time of your fifth set of great-grandparents, people hauled water for everything – water to clean themselves, water to wash clothes and dishes, and water to prepare and cook food. There were probably a thousand other reasons for water to be hauled, but keeping in mind how labour-intensive it was to haul water, people probably used it very sparingly. Can you imagine someone’s horror of their good water-hauling bucket springing a leak? Today, we nonchalantly turn on the taps in our kitchens and bathrooms and we instantly have clean, treated water. We probably have less tummy troubles and better teeth than our fore-people did by drinking chlorinated, fluoridated water, but how much do we really appreciate the water we have, and how much physical exercise can we possibly get by turning on a tap? Hauling water keeps consumption low and is a great over-all body workout.

Hauling water meant there was no indoor plumbing for toilets and bathtubs. Try to imagine visiting an outhouse at 3:00am in Canadian winter temperatures of -38 degrees and in three feet of snow. Chilly buns, I say! If visiting an outhouse in those conditions doesn’t appeal to you, rest assured, if anything, it will build character. And bathing in a pan of water isn’t quite the same as taking a nice, long, hot bubble bath in a soaker tub, with candles, and a good book. Hygiene wasn’t the order of the day 100 years ago, getting the fire started and grub on the table was. Today we enjoy the comforts of indoor toilets and bathtubs but we have also gone to the opposite end of the continuum and now some of us are too clean. It’s a medical fact that we have bugs in our hair and oils in our skin and we need to have these bugs and oils present for certain reasons. By scrubbing ourselves squeaky clean every day, we are stripping away these essential bugs and oils and in doing so, we weaken our immune system and can become sick more easily. It’s very convenient to jump in the shower every morning but this convenience is probably making us catch more colds and flues than we’ll ever know. There are even those who go to the extremes with their cleanliness and develop medical conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Surely this can’t be good for us.

If there is one chore that everyone hates, whether they lived 100 years ago or today, it’s doing laundry. Today we have washers and dryers that practically do our laundry for us. All we have to do is switch the clothes from one machine to the other and fold the clothes once they are dry. Imagine hauling water and hand-washing your entire week’s worth of laundry, every week, for your entire life! Using lye soap in boiling water without rubber gloves on must have been a real treat too. Of course people of a century ago didn’t have as many clothes as we do now, but it was typically the “lady of the house” that had to do laundry for everyone; husbands and children, and the more children you had, the more laundry you did. This was probably the most backbreaking work of 100 years ago. Washers and dryers are one convenience we just can’t do without today, unless of course you are looking for some backbreaking work to do.

Even though people of 100 years ago weren’t as clean as we are today, common illnesses were definitely considered more serious than they are today, and the medical community hadn’t made great advances in eradicating diseases yet. Don’t you find it odd that people today are actually developing more western diseases at an alarming rate than people did a century ago? Our 20th century conveniences created a lifestyle in which our health, over time, has started to deteriorate. Yes, we now enjoy the longest lifespan in the history of time, but it’s mainly due to our great advances in medical technology, not our new convenient lifestyle. Try to keep in mind how terribly ill most people are when they do finally die in their 70s or 80s. They’ve usually suffered from a terrible disease for years. It was medical technology that kept them alive that long, not living a good life. The trade off for a longer life doesn’t seem worth the convenience, if we’re that sick for that long before we finally go.

These are just some of the modern day conveniences we take for granted. Tune in next week, when we’ll continue our comparison of the bare necessities of life.

Diane is a full-time, freelance writer. She specializes in writing technical articles for the oil and gas industry, but also writes feature length magazine articles of all genres, including Calgary-based magazines. She is working towards a Bachelor of General Studies degree.

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