Could you imagine walking into a dark room and lighting an oil lamp in order to see? Or that each chair you sat in came from an artisan woodworker with natural materials, as opposed to the average plastic swivel chair seen in every office in America?¬† Lewis Mumford, an early 1900’s philosopher broke down the evolution of technology throughout human history into 4 time periods. Until around 10,000 B.C, humans were making tools out of stone and bone as a means for survival. As civilization progressed through the agricultural revolution, we learned to harness nature’s energy to help meet specific needs. Steps like domesticating animals, getting energy from water mills, and capturing wind to push us across the globe were not only significant because of the advancement they spurred; they helped people of this time lived in a harmonious balance between labor, science, and nature.

Mumford dates the start of the Paleotechnic era at 1750 A.D., with the creation of steam energy that gradually spread across the globe. The inventions of the Paleotechnic era got away from the handmade, good old-fashioned quality that was seen in many artisan crafts and businesses. Instead, they were geared towards the business man of the 19th century. Such men of industry devalued scientific learning, and along with their coal-fired steam powered factories, also devalued the common working human being. The combination of coal, steam, as well as conglomerates like iron and steel meant that industry could be located virtually anywhere, and not just tied to rivers. This implementation of machinery led to a world wide constant production of goods, supported by unskilled workers tending to the machines doing their job for them. The working man was castrated of his skill set; labor could be provided by anyone, not just with those who held valuable skills. The artisans who worked a craft with raw materials like wood, cloth, and metals turned into the worker who tended to machines, living in overcrowded, disease ridden parts of cities.

It was in this atmosphere that social mindsets of the working class become stunted, and tensions build as a result of this Paleotechnic life. The factory system stripped away the social and technological stimulus that accompanied countless different occupations, as well as different ways of living. This was facilitated by the cruelties of the workplace: seemingly never-ending hours combined with starvation wages not only curbed physical growth, but social development as well. Starting with the exploitation of the youth, children in England were put to work by age 5, and nearly a quarter of miners in America were boys. Businesses were slowly removing alternative occupations as a possibility through the implementation of machines, which led to dis-education, and also through the strategic placement of factories. Those which were placed in small cities and towns collected a majority of the workforce, thus vastly effecting an area’s population. The production of the railroad across the U.S. only further exposed these smaller communities to the negative effects of “modern” technology.¬†Towns which were linked by railroad carried on a bulk of the trade across the country, which exposed pollution to untouched parts of the nation.

In a period that was characterized by the treatment of man as machine, it was seen that the progression of technology would drastically change the definitions of life. This phase of human civilization was a horrific happening, and although it may have led to clarify our goals of humane living, it makes me wonder: Do we even deserve the time of comfort and convenience that we live in?