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By Danièle Cybulskie
Although a medieval person vacationing in the twenty-first century would no doubt be overjoyed at things like electricity, modern transportation, and flushing toilets, there are a lot of things they probably wouldn’t appreciate about our time. Here are five things a medieval person might just hate about the modern world.
1. Our Oversharing
While I imagine mobile phones being embraced quickly, I do think the idea would be mystifying at first, and not just because they look like magic. After the initial enthusiasm, I can easily imagine a medieval person asking, “But who do you actually need to talk to right away, all the time?” Because of the pace of distance communication in the Middle Ages, people didn’t communicate as much trivial information as we do to as many people as we do across the astounding distances that we do. Undoubtedly, they’d welcome the chance to immediately communicate transportation mishaps (“My horse just blew a shoe…”) and medical emergencies, but I imagine it would take some time to adjust to the idea of sharing every thought (and meal) with the world.
2. Our Work Schedules
Medieval people worked hard for a living, but between Sundays, and the many, many saints’ days and religious feasts, medieval people actually got more official holidays than modern people do. Also, when it got too dark to work outside, outside work stopped. For modern people, connectivity has made it all too easy to work well past the hours we’re paid to work, while frantically squeezing in domestic chores. It might be hard to explain to a medieval visitor why we are still working so hard when our technology should be giving us more free time. Medieval people could well think we’re nuts.
3. Our Memories
A medieval person dropped into our century would be stunned by the amount of information we have access to – it’s one of this century’s greatest achievements. However, he or she would also be stunned to know how little we remember any of it. In the Middle Ages, students got their degrees by listening, remembering, and putting together long arguments based on what they’d learned, while students today may not remember their class schedules because they’re programmed into their phones. Modern people can depend on having the ability to look up what we need when we need it, so we don’t feel pressure to remember as much, but it’s very likely that a medieval time traveler might see this as a failing of ours.
4. Our Lack of Privacy
Medieval lives were very structured by rules put forth by the clergy and secular authorities; rules that were meant to control all sorts of public and private behaviours. It’s safe to say that medieval people comfortably ignored many of these rules – as long as they felt they weren’t going to get caught. The sheer number of cameras being pointed at modern people all day, every day would probably be tremendously unnerving to a medieval visitor (or anyone travelling from the past, for that matter), not to mention the power of a quick Google search to find out more than you ever needed to know about anything or anyone in less than a second. (I might just take bets on how quickly a medieval person might Google his/her ex, though.)
5. Our Obsessive Tracking
Modern people love, love, love statistics. We especially love statistics that involve ourselves. It would probably take quite a long time to explain to a medieval person why we need wearable technology that measures our steps, our sleep, and even our – ahem – bedroom activities. If we feel tired, they’d probably say, we already know we didn’t sleep well; if we have excess weight, we aren’t exercising enough; if we spend that much energy in the bedroom… well, isn’t any time spent at those activities a good thing? I’m not sure “because it’s cool” would be enough to convince a medieval person that they should take home a FitBit, but you just never know.
While there is so much about modern life that would be appealing to a medieval visitor (antibiotics might be first on the list), it would be pretty presumptuous to think that they would immediately jump at the chance to stay in the twenty-first century. We are so much the same as these ancestors of ours, and yet we are so very different in myriad ways. Before we dismiss their time period as being a terrible place to live, it’s worth taking a minute to see our own time through their eyes.
You can follow Danièle Cybulskie on Twitter @5MinMedievalist
Top Image: Portrait of a Man by Albrecht Durer