Man and His Machines

Europe – Industrial Revolution – 1750 > 1900


            And yes, once again we’re back to the land of revolutions.  But this time the stakes are a bit higher.  Sure, each of the preceding revolutions altered how we look at the world, but how much did they really change the lives of the average Joe?  In 1500, the average European spent his days stuck on a farm, plowing the same land his family probably farmed for generations, hoping that, through God’s grace, the forces of nature would be kind enough to allow his family to survive just one more year.  Three hundred years later, after all the so-called revolutions, how much had really changed?

            Was this peasant suddenly a famed artiste peddling his wares to eager patrons across the continent?  No.  Did this peasant become a swashbuckling sailor braving the high seas to discover new lands?  No again.  How about when it came to his relationship with God?  Did he now believe in Olaf, the great god of tree bark?  Nope.  His God was still the god of Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus.  OK, he must have changed his perception of the world, constantly employing the scientific method to grasp unexplainable phenomena?  Not exactly.  Do you really think the average peasant cared that there were craters on the moon or that gravity makes fresh fruit fall to the ground?  Pretty sure, neither of these thoughts kept him awake at night as he slept cuddled up to his portly pig (not his wife…an actual pig) in his one-room shack.  Well, he must have felt more enlightened, like he could stand up to the lords and ladies of the shire and change the world solely through the power of his convictions?  Nope, he still fell prostrate to the man.  So the political revolutions of the United States and France must have made his life better? Didn’t he now have a Constitution, enumerated rights and even an all-powerful legislative branch that constantly tried to devise ways to allow him to pursue his happiness?  No, in fact, he probably felt like the rich people who used to rule him were merely replaced with new rich people sporting slightly different accents.

            The truth is that every one of the European revolutions of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries affected only a small portion of the population.  Looking back with our 21st century goggles, we can see that these little revolutionary turning points all put us on the path to where we stand today, that each transformation took us one step further away from our Dark Age past and toward our modern lives filled with joy, peace and online shopping opportunities.  But for the everyman, for that lowly peasant who didn’t have access to the art, the ideas, the experiences and the literature of the more affluent members of society, for that man, the changes were anything but revolutionary.

            Then came the Industrial Revolution.  This one was the biggie.  In the history of mankind, this revolution ranks up there with the discovery of fire, the wheel and his and her clothing ensembles.  Only one other revolution in human history comes close to altering the lives of regular people to such a vast extent as the Industrial Revolution – the...