Life in 1815 in America was dirty, smelly, laborious and uncomfortable. People spent most of their waking hours working, with scant opportunity for the development of individual talents and interests unrelated to farming ( the rest of the description of 1815 American life is well worth reading, too. Its from What Hath God Wrought - The Transformation of America, 1815 -1848 by Daniel Walker Howe in the Oxford History of United States series).
Many would say that we have come a long way, baby. Who wants to go back to the early 1800s where most people never took a bath! This week I saw the results of a study of how young people use their time. Seems that the average teenager is plugged into electronic media 7.5 hours a day, on average, of course. Some more, some less. This is apparently outside of school and before and after sleeping. Texting, cell phoning, internetting, video gaming, ipoding, and just plain old tv viewing. Studies confirm that the average adult spends most of his or her "free" time plugged in, as well. Look what all our time saving devices have allowed us to do with the time they have saved. Now we have the newest addition to our electronic gadgets: the Ipad. So we can take all our tunes, videos, shows, photos, and now our entire library, too, to the beach with us! Just don't get any sand on it!
There is a very real question how much we have advanced from those primitive times in our young country when we had to work hard all day to survive. Kids were employed in the family household business. Howe comments: "Children could perform many of the necessary errands and tasks: fetching water from the well, feeding chickens, collecting firewood, etc." Children were an economic necessity to run the family farming business. The white birthrate in 1800 was 7 children per woman (according to Howe). With a high infant mortality rate and much work to be done in the household big families were typical.
Today, with so few household chores to be done, there is much more free time. The issue as always is, how do I use this time ( the author Russell Baker who wrote the Pulitzer Prize memoir, Growing Up, overheard a friend remark how he had so little time to read as he sat down to watch a 3 hour baseball game on tv). We all have the same amount of time and we all have the same decision about how we use it. Unlike our forefathers and foremothers in 1815, we are fortunate to have discretionary time to develop our interests and talents. But, will we?