Is Progress our most important product?

Lancaster Pennsylvania, west of Philadelphia, is home to some 237,000 Plain people, including the Amish, Mennonites and Brethren. These folks eschew modernity in favor of keeping the old ways and traditions. You’ll see them, if you visit, as I used to do every fall, for the dazzling foliage and the acres of patchwork farms rolling away from the ridge of Route 23 into the horizon. Though you may not like getting stuck behind one of their horse and buggies, you might enjoy the quiet pace of life there.

We may wonder why they choose to live the way their ancestors did hundreds of years ago, rejecting the technological innovations for which the rest of the world clamors. They believe that worldliness keeps them from God. They also hold family and farm sacred. Though it can seem paradoxical, their point makes more sense as I grow older, and watch the world going crazy, destroying itself and its people in the quest for progress.

In rural Costa Rica, the farmers also work as they must have since they began farming here— by hand— without even the benefit of horse-pulled tractors. The labor is back-breaking, but I don’t hope for modern machinery for them, any more than I wish it for the Plain people. If farming became automated, what would happen to these people, already seriously impoverished, and made more so by the settlement of us expats, who tend to drive prices up wherever we go?

Life never hesitates, and no amount of hoping or wishing will prevent progress, whether the change, mostly in the form of automation, helps or hurts the millions who have too little. Now that robots are rapidly replacing humans, will we take a trip down memory lane to the dark ages?

To see how little things really do change despite technological advances, take a look at the BBC’s in-depth studies in the form of period dramas. Beginning with the popular 1971 Masterpiece Theater Drama, Upstairs, Downstairs, and continuing in series like Larkrise to Candleford, and Downton Abbey, we see how life is brutal and short for the underclasses, and good for the moneyed, just like today.

And while technology, in the form of the Industrial Revolution, promised a better life, the results were debatable. Sure, some rose above the limitations of birth and class, but at what price? And for how long? Are most of us better off than we were back then?

I once asked a high school English class to imagine a world without technology, and write about it. They couldn’t. For as long as they’d been alive, they’d been connected. A world without phones, TVs, cars, electricity? Unimaginable.

A world where we’d have to communicate in writing, or face to face, doesn’t seem that bad to me– internet junkie that I am– even though I wouldn’t know what was going on in the rest of the planet.

There’s no going back, but if we could save the earth by giving up some so-called progress, I’d be willing. Would you?

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About Myra

I'm retired in Costa Rica, having lived in Philly, State College, Salem Mass, and Kawagoe Japan. You might call me a career gypsy, but my last and best job was teaching English to some of the best and brightest kids in Philly. I'm new to blogging and websites, and will probably make all the mistakes there are, but now I'm sharing my writing. I moved to Costa Rica in June of 2009 with my husband Jack, my dog Buddha, and Jack's two cats, Hobbes and Noir.
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One Response to Is Progress our most important product?

  1. Lynne says:

    Spot-on observation, Myra. Technological progress comes at a cost, and rather that fulfilling the promise of more leisure time, more family time, we see ourselves working longer hours, taking fewer and shorter vacations, all to chase the all-mighty dollar. Why? So we can buy more stuff we don’t need, including new gadgets like phones that ensure we’re always at someone’s beckon call. I do see the appeal of the Amish lifestyle, even while knowing I couldn’t survive without my modern “luxuries” like electricity and plumbing!

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