Calendars, Clocks and Time, Part 3
We are halfway along our trip through time, arriving in the present – 2016. In the last story, we looked at the world as it was in 1916. One hundred years later things have changed. We will examine where time and technology has brought us in the 21st century.
Early in the 1900s, America’s factories supplied the war in Europe. Today, many of those heavy industries no longer operate in our country. America, once the greatest steel power in the world, has lost that title and now ranks fourth to China, Japan and Europe. We have also lost the production of textiles, glassware, pottery and heavy equipment. The good jobs that went along with those industries have also gone overseas. Coal mines once employed thousands. Now, those mining jobs have vanished due to changing demand for coal and environmental regulations. America, once the top automaker, is now third to China and the European Union.
Our country is changing from heavy industries to a service-based economy. Unfortunately, the higher wages once paid to workers in those industries is now fading. Here in the Ohio Valley, steel, nails, coal, aluminum, chemicals, glass works and potteries once employed thousands. Today, modern energy-based industries require fewer people to operate. Reduced manpower and production cost helps to increase profits to investment groups or foreign investors.
Wages peaked in the late 90s at $58,000 a year. Today with the change in the country’s economy and loss of industries, the average wage has dropped to less than $54,000. While the cost to live has increased, wages have stagnated in recent years. Equal wage laws are on the books. Still, we hear about iniquities in pay between men and women in some careers. With wages declining, the middle class buying power is being reduced. The economy’s lifeblood is these dollars. When Ronald Regan was President he had an idea to help the middle class. Economists called it the trickledown theory. The general idea was to allow the economic policies to favor the wealthy or privileged. They, in turn, would use profits to create jobs. Those jobs would provide good wages, health care, pension and reinvestment in the community. I wonder what he would think about trickledown today.
In 1916 we were pulled into a war not of our making in Europe. Today, we are in the Middle East in a prolonged war that has taken thousands of lives and lingered on for years. In 1990 we entered the Persian Gulf War and have been fighting ever since to stop the threat of terrorism in our country. With the help of technology, war has become remote control for some. Drones and satellites have greatly changed our ability to find our enemies. Today the enemy is not an army in muddy trenches of France. It can be a cell of terrorists who walk among us and are willing to martyr themselves at any cost. The cost to our soldiers and citizens has been high and continues even today.
Science and medicine is moving into a world where treatment will be inside your cells. Genetic medicine is finding new ways to help with diseases caused by damaged genes. But, simple bacteria and viruses that once could be controlled are also changing and evolving to resist drugs. Darwin would point to them as proof of his theory, survival of the fittest. They are said to be the oldest forms of life. Some believe they will be the last form of life on our planet.
Diseases common at the beginning of the 20th century were often caused by poor water quality. Drinking water treatment has become a science, and we have the safest water in the world. The problem today is the abundance of fresh water in many parts of the country. Water supplies are increasingly found to have contaminates difficult to remove. Fertilizers, heavy metals and drugs may be found in water supplies and sometimes pass through treatment systems and accumulate in water. In parts of our country long droughts make water difficult to find. Fresh water makes up 2.8 percent of the world water supply. In 1916, the U.S. population was a little over one hundred million. Today it is three hundred million. We have the same amount of available water today as in 1916. And some of the same water pipes that supplied water 100 years ago still bring water into homes.
The 19th amendment gave women the right to vote. This year two women ran for the highest office in the land. Today that high office is held by our first African-American President. One hundred years ago it would have been difficult to believe we would have come this far. The U.S. Supreme court, the highest in the land, now has three women among its members. The debate over whether a new justice is liberal or conservative still goes on today as it did 100 years ago.
The criminal justice system in our country is struggling to keep up with caseloads. Today nearly six million are locked away. In 1916, 300 murders were committed in our country. In recent years an estimated 14,000 homicides occur each year. One of the primary reasons – drugs. One hundred years ago the first laws were enacted trying to curb the use of drugs. Today, laws are written to protect the public from criminals with the same drugs. We think of it as an unseen crime. But, the problem is more than the dealer on the corner. It is prescription drugs that are widely prescribed for real pain. Recently, in our own, state authorities raided pain clinics that dispensed medication. Legality of the medications will be decided in the courts. For those who have been hooked on the drugs, the pain and suffering continues. It is a cycle repeated for over a hundred years. As long as there is a demand, there will be someone willing to risk supplying the drugs.
Communications are at our finger tips literally today. We can talk to someone a half a world away as simply as the neighbor next door. This ability is drawing the world closer together. We no longer can ignore what is happening in China or Europe. A problem in their economy is instantly transmitted into our world. Recently the stock market had its worst start ever to a year. Not by our own economy, but by China’s financial problems and Middle East oil.
Today the average life span for men is 77 years. For women it is 81. There are an estimated 254 million cars registered in America. The border with Mexico is guarded to prevent illegal aliens and drugs from entering our country. On our streets terrorism is still killing people as it did in 1916.
In 1916, people were debating creation verses evolution and its teaching in schools. That conversation is still going on. There are those who believe the end is coming from biblical prophecy. Others believe the end is coming from our own ignorance and greed. The faces have changed over time, the conversation has not. In a hundred years we have not yet learned to work together to find answers.
Today we face a challenge not conceived of a hundred years ago. Science and technology are going to offer us wondrous options for our lives. But, the question becomes, if science can do a thing, morally should we tamper with mankind’s essences, DNA. As science takes us to new places I am reminded of H.G. Wells’s book, The Island of Dr. Moreau. A story in which man alters life, he never asked himself, should I change what God created? I believe in a lab somewhere today science is close to creating the perfect human, free of disease and the ability to live a very long life. If science offered you that gift would you take it?
We have traveled a hundred years on our journey toward the future. Next time, I will ask others to share their ideas where the future may take us in the year 2116, as they look Through the Lens.