Not-so-long ago, the day began at first light and ended with nightfall. People – Lincoln, perhaps – might stay up to read by candlelight or the glow of the hearth, but unless one had the money for many candles the day was tied to the length of the seasons. Whale oil, kerosene, and gas lighting would eventually bring light to those who could afford it and these were soon superseded by the miracle of electric lighting.
And that didn’t get to everybody in the US until well into the 20th century.
Nevertheless, we’ve grown accustomed to a world where light is available 24/7 to those who want it. We don’t think of it as unusual or ourselves as somehow special.
The same thing has happened with communications. In Lincoln’s time, there was the book, the newspaper or magazine, and the arts which relied upon the human voice: theater, poetry, and rumors at the local tavern. The tradition of an individual reading a newspaper aloud has persisted for a long time, certainly to within a very few years – if not still practiced – at Cuban cigar factories.
Of course, electricity changed all of this. First came the telegraph, then the telephone, then the radio, then television, then computer-based communications, most recently (of course) the Internet. We are now immersed in the possibility of communicating with someone – two-way communication, not just passive listening or watching – 24/7, for every minute of every day that we have electrical power. Or a battery in our phones.
And yet … the human race evolved for tens of thousands of years in a world where talk was the only real form of communication. Reading is perhaps 4,000 years old (and fluent reading remains a stumbling block for many people).
We were born to a world of quiet and we live in an age of noise.
As a result, it is our time – our time for reflection and time for concentration – that is at an ever greater premium, often buried under the opinions of televised pundits, frittered away with U-tube videos, or scattered in our ongoing, hardly ceasing, exchanges of news with an amazing number of Internet friends. Our attention is precious. We may, indeed, cultivate the ability to process great amounts of information, of news.
But will we ever have the quiet between nightfall and first light? Our dreams may demand it.