Most of us assume modern life is the peak of human achievement, but is it really? We decided to take a look at the major technologies of the modern world and compare them to their closest equivalent of pre-digital mankind. The results are surprising.
We have: The Internet
They had: The telegram
For all its brash stupidity, the Internet is central to modern life. Around 1,668,870,408 people have Internet access today, far more than ever had access to the telegram. But anyone who's watched an old film will quickly realise the telegram held a mystery and beauty that Microsoft Outlook's Fisher-Price clumsiness can't seem to muster. There was something elegant and dramatic about unfolding a message from Aunt Trudy explaining that Uncle Frank had broken his rib falling off the roof of the farm while painting the weathercock. An email, on the other hand, exudes all the glamour of a kebab.
Best thing about the Internet: Keyboard Cat.
Best thing about the telegram: Crisp typed letters on a tastefully off-white ticker-tape.
Winner: The telegram.
We have: Twitter
They had: Gossip
Imagine putting microphones in front of 1,000 particularly talkative idiots and then feeding that into speakers placed in the houses of millions. That's Twitter. Millions of people watching a few thousand people have 'loads of fun'. Tweet that.
Cast your brain back to the previous century and you may recall something called gossip. This didn't require electricity or a desktop app. You simply walked up to a rosy-cheeked servant and whispered, "I saw Miss Hetherington licking dead birds in the aviary," and before you knew it, your entire household staff would be stooped in urgent whispers.
These days people fail to respond to traditional gossip because you can't click on it. Mekons.
Best thing about Twitter: The idiot little bird icon.
Best thing about gossip: Helps the oppressed masses feel better.
We have: Facebook
They had: Dinner parties
You remember that bit in the Stephen King film Misery where Kathy Bates' character ties up an author and smashes his feet to pieces? It's the perfect metaphor for Facebook. The login window is the snowy car crash, your home page is Kathy Bates' bedroom, and the status updates are a sledgehammer hobbling you. Only Facebook doesn't hobble once: Facebook hobbles you every minute. Forever. Let's keep that image fresh in our minds, and compare it to a dinner party. In times past, people would have these delightful gatherings where they would sit and talk to each other.
Right, so on one hand we have Kathy Bates smashing your feet to pieces, and on the other we have a quiet gathering of friends, a tender chicken lightly dappled with provençal sauce, a zesty white wine and some topical conversation. Think about it. Really think about it. Now make your choice.
Best thing about Facebook: Divorce proceedings.
Best thing about dinner parties: Pudding.
Winner: Dinner parties.
We have: World of Warcraft
They had: Actual war craft
In the Middle Ages, if you wanted some war, you went out wild-eyed and stabbed a man. You could drop in and out of war at will, participating in whatever battle happened to be going on outside your door that day. These days, for most of us, war is something they sell in a box at PC World.
Let's imagine for a moment that we took little Timmy out of his servo-powered war chair, switched off his PC, and transported him back to the Middle Ages. Back in his bedroom in Milton Keynes, Timmy was slashing the heads off orcs. But now Timmy is in a real battle. Terrified, he struggles to lift his cast-iron sword -- it's impossibly heavy. A second later someone lops Timmy's head off. He's dead. Well done, Timmy.
Best thing about World of Warcraft: No pain.
Best thing about actual war craft: The heady, metallic stench of an army assembled at sunrise.
Winner: Actual war craft.
We have: Swine flu mass-panic
They had: The plague
Swine flu. Wow, it feels boring to actually type those words. Swine flu was billed as a global killer, and it turned out the scale of devastation was not so breathtaking: one man in Aberdeen had to buy a Lemsip.
Right, so swine flu had a thousand times more written about it than the plague did. It was all over the news for months, but it was pathetic, like a screaming otter.
The plague, on the other hand, killed millions of people and, like 50 Cent, didn't feel the need to brag about it.
Best thing about swine flu: The name, teehee. No.
Best thing about the plague: It did what it said on the tin. It plagued. No more, no less.
Winner: The plague.
We have: iPhones
They had: Fires on hills
Think your iPhone is cool? What about a massive fire on a hill that lights the sky and fills man with a surge of primal trust in the universe and the well-being of all things? iPhone or the beauty of life?
In ancient times, fires were lit on hills to communicate, but now we pick up our shiny black slabs and smoodge podgy fingers on the screen to call other people. It's effortless, and soulless. Well, until someone makes a hill-fire iPhone app.
Best thing about the iPhone: The interface.
Best thing about fires on hills: It's a pigging fire!
Winner: Fires on hills.
We have: Viruses
They had: A real Trojan horse
Computer viruses: they're everywhere. Well, unless you're a Mac user, but they're going to figure out how to get you too, any day now. It takes about half a second for an unprotected machine to accumulate so much spyware and related junk that it becomes a sort of lawn-sprinkler, spurting more malware and spyware across to its other unprotected computer friends. There's nothing more inelegant and pointless than a computer virus.
The real Trojan horse -- the one used to sack Troy in the movie Troy, and debatably in 'real history' -- is amazing. Those silly Trojans thought the giant wooden horse outside their city gate was a present from the gods. Turned out it was packed full of Greeks, eager to go postal.
Best thing about viruses: Absolutely nothing.
Best thing about a real Trojan horse: Sean Bean.
Winner: Trojan horse.
We have: MP3s
They had: Tribal chants
MP3s are great, sure, but do they make you feel like you're part of a unique community, united in space and time and at one with nature? No, with an MP3 you're most likely plugged into white earbuds, a one-person bubble of hate, clattering around the urban sprawl.
Tribal chants were a way of bringing people together. A flash mob without the mob, or the flash. You can't say the same for MP3s: they're bleak and mechanical.
Best thing about MP3s: They fit in your pocket.
Best thing about tribal chants: No batteries needed.
Winner: Tribal chants.
We have: OLED TVs
They had: Jousting
Think your OLED TV is Commander Cool? Did you consider that watching television is one reason why we're all getting so fat? Science has definitively proven 90 per cent of scheduled programming to be unoriginal and depressing. But what's the alternative to the nation's favourite pastime?
Let us present jousting. Jousting was a popular sport in the olden days. It involved two young men, high on posset and bravado, charging at each other on horseback, long poles outstretched. The aim being to knock your opponent from their horse, or give them a really bad case of torso-not-attached-to-body-any-more syndrome.
Best thing about OLED TVs: They're comical to ask for.
Best thing about jousting: Horses plus long spears = yes.
We have: Post-Enlightenment scientific rigour
They had: Superstition and quack doctors
We live in an enlightened age, where doctors treat disease rationally, according to double-blind scientific trials. Great, but does this sound like fun to you?
In the olden days you would go to the doctor with a mild cough, and he would barely contain his excitement. "Ah, I know what this needs," he would enthuse, searching among jars of dead beetles and herbs. He would open up your lung with a spoon, chanting, before stuffing a fresh chicken into the gaping wound and declaring you cured.
Compare that to modern doctors, who don't have time to even look at you, diagnosing you purely on your smell, using Google's "I'm feeling lucky" button.
Best thing about post-Enlightenment scientific rigour: It's fun to say.
Best thing about superstition and quack doctors: They really had time for people in those days.
Winner: Superstition and quack doctors.
As you can see, ancient life beats modern life in all respects. Modern life doesn't even come close, scoring a rather embarrassing nought out of ten.