View Full Version : What had the greater Technical Change the 19th or 20th Centuries?
07-25-2002, 05:58 PM
With all the talk about how innovative the 20th century was in terms of technology I have often thought the 19th ushered in more technical change on humanity than the 20th.
For the first time in human history you had instant world wide communication via the transcontinental and transoceanic telegraph cables and telephones.
The discovery and utilization of electromagnetic magnetic waves such as radio, X-rays etc.
The germ theory of disease.
For the first time you could travel faster than a horse via steam locomotives.
Who would see the greater change, a man born in 1800 who lived until 1900 or one born in 1900 and died in 2000?
Yow. Interesting—and difficult—question to answer! The last half of the 19th century is hard to beat: railroads, autos, telegraph, telephone, telewoman (old joke!), motion pictures, readily available cameras, sewing machines, elevators, window screens, and a huge number of social changes (the end of slavery, a strong women's rights movement, anti-child labor).
As far as I can judge, the real period of technological change was 1850-1950. There has been little change in the last half of the twentieth century - look at all the things that people thought would happen 'by the year 2000'!
What we have done improved in 1950-2000 is materials science - that gives us electronic miniaturisation. Not much else is new!
07-26-2002, 12:05 PM
Hang on there cjb! What did you type that post on? Just because it was invented as such before 50 doesn't take away the enormous, read gargantuan impact the innovations in information technology have had in the second half of the 20th century. The communications satellite? Fiber optics? Digital media? This here that we are on? Pretty goddamned revolutionary stuff if you ask me.
All that being said I'm with Eve in the interesting-and-difficult to answer corner.
One thing I know for certain, the inventions of the 19th looked cooler.
1880s - People gather in town square as results of distant baseball games are telegraphed to the operator and figures representing baserunners are moved about a board
1920s - People start to huddle around radios to listen to baseball games
1950s - People start to watch baseball games on television
1980s - People start to watch baseball games on cable TV and see the Atlanta Braves far more than they want
2000s- People follow baseball games on computer monitors as a central server sends updates to a remote computer which moves around figures on the screen representing baserunners.
07-26-2002, 08:37 PM
Originally posted by Icerigger
Who would see the greater change, a man born in 1800 who lived until 1900 or one born in 1900 and died in 2000? [/B]
Not that you ask explicitly but I'd say for a first world woman it would have to be the 20th. You contain yourself to technology (excluding the Suffragettes and the 60's Liberation Movement), so I guess I'd go with farming technology, food distribution and even white goods because they freed women from their full time food preparation and house chore 'lifestyle'. Advances in medicine also aided childbirth and prevented same.
Same century for some third world women, though they didn't benefit to anything like the same extent there was improvement whereas, IMHO, their lives changed very little from year dot through to the 19th century.
In relation to men, I guess it depends on where they lived and their wealth – an industrial millionaire of the Victorian age might have seen and experienced more change than a coalminer, who might have seen and experienced more change than a black man, who might have seen and experienced more change than a Nepali farmer, who might have..........
Talking of which, when I was in Nepal I stayed with a family where the wife was suffering terrible pain because of premature cataracts – couldn't have been more than 35 years old. I guessed (no idea, really) it might have been the result of spending most of her childhood and adult life over open dung and wood fires. No medicine, no prospect of medicine and all I could give her was Anadin. If she's alive now, I doubt her life has changed very much (in technology terms) from what it might have been at almost any point in history (perhaps the matches and lighters of people like me passing by probably made the single greatest contribution to her life).
I suppose you could argue the Industrial Revolution changed society more as farm hands moved into (and created) cities to became production line workers but I'm not sure you mean that either.
07-27-2002, 03:14 PM
i think this is an unfair question because of the way technology builds on itself. the transformer was invented in 1876 but they are all over the place now and our society couldn't function without them.
i would still vote for the 20th century however. although the 1st cars were built in 1885 very few were around in 1900 and horses still dominated personal transportation. i wonder how many americans have never been on a horse. i've only done it twice in 50 years. and was real nervous at the time. i think TV has caused irreperable brain damage to this country. i have a book that says the US is trying to spread a Mickey Mouse mentality around the world. Mickey must be insulted. i think the original Micky Mouse club is better than what i see today. get Mickey to shoot Barney.
07-27-2002, 05:16 PM
This isn't even close, guys.
For the average person, the 20th century saw far more changes than the 19th century.
At the start of the 20th century, the vast majority of the population was rural, and food production still employed the most people. At the turn of the century, something like only 5% of farms had electricity. The most common form of transportation was still the horse and buggy. The airplane had not been invented yet. While there were telegraphs, the average person still had no way to communicate with anyone outside of horse travel range.
For most people, life was not substantially different than it was 200 years earlier. Changes were happening in the cities, but not much out in the country where most people lived.
By the end of the 20th century, the entire culture had been transformed. Now only something like 5% of the people are involved in food production. Electricity coverage is almost 100%. Television, radio, telephones, and automobiles have made the entire country mobile. Huge advances in medicine have increased the average lifespan by some 20 years. Many terrifying diseases like polio or smallpox are essentially eradicated. The airplane revolutionized travel and commerce. The list goes on, and on.
I would daresay that the 20th century has seen more human advancement than the rest of human history combined.
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