The Era of Predigestion
THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB
ECONOMICALLY, we live in an age of electricity; morally, in an age of pepsin. A mania for predigestion has laid hold of our generation, and we have simply got to reckon with it.
We began by pepsinizing the instruction given in our schools. When you and I, my fellow antique, were children, we were expected to work. A problem was stated, which we were to find our own way of solving; or a page in a book was named, the substance of which we were to commit to memory, the function of the teacher in those days being to supply the digestive stimulant which would help us to assimilate what we had taken into our intellectual system in its crude form. To be sure, that required of us two processes; for the teacher, if he knew his duty, did no more than set the internal machinery in motion: we exercised the memory first, and the understanding faculty afterward ; but although it meant, in a way, more wear and tear on the mental mechanism, it also meant increased strength and a more highly energized power of absorption and adjustment. The old system produced some pretty sturdy human material, too. Who ever heard of Gladstone, or Tyndall, or our own Mark Hopkins, having to cut loose from his larger activities to weather an attack of our now universal disorder, nervous prostration!
Under the “ improved ” system, the teacher does all the hard work, and does it in advance. The ideal is to make childhood, including the school period, a prolonged play spell. Far be it from me to cast reproach upon anything which renders life happier for any class of human beings; but are ease and happiness always synonymous terms ? The champion of the new system insists that the old one was economically wasteful, since to walk over well-cleared paths conserves force which would else be profitlessly expressed in hacking one’s way through a jungle. Granted; and by the same token there is a shocking waste in our ordinary mode of eating and drinking, so why should not the whole race subsist on concentrated tablets and quench its thirst with vaporizers? Show me the person who has made such an experiment in scientifically sifted alimentation, and I will present him as a “ horrible example ” to illustrate the other side of the argument. When Dr. Tanner went a step further, and proved that a man could live for forty days with no food at all, he did so at the cost of a set of teeth, and some other sacrifices which few of us are yet prepared to make. If the end sought is the reduction of the problem of living to its simplest terms, why not model upon the wild Indian and be done with it?
What began in the schools has spread through every domain. Reading the advertising pages of a popular magazine, one is forced to conclude that the world is reaching the point described in the epitaph of the tired woman: —
For I’m going to do nothing forever and ever.
Here are a mechanical washer which will enable your wife to sit in a rockingchair and read her Atlantic while the family linen is cleansed and wrung out automatically; an attachment to her sewing-machine which will absolve her from further thraldom to the treadle, and another with which she can mend your hose without handling needle or darning-ball; a vacuum cleaner which, in the hands of your youngest child, makes sweeping and dusting a fascinating pastime; a mop which wrings itself, so that the woman using it need not wet her fingers; and a fireless cooker which renders you almost independent of Bridget.
Have you longed for a summer home in the country? Why waste money on a lot, and time on planning a house, when you can buy a portable cottage that you can put up or pull down when and where you will? The interior finish need not bother you, for here is a wall surface ready made which you can buy by the square yard and place in position as you need it, free from the nuisance of lath and plaster.
Is your work largely clerical ? Provide yourself with a machine on which the bookkeeper has but to press a few buttons and his columns are footed; and a shorthand instrument with a phonetic keyboard, which prints pothooks as a typewriter prints letters. Even the daily trip to the bank may be cut out, now that we have banks which transact all kinds of business by mail.
Are you a genius? Behold an agency which advises you what to invent, procures a patent for your invention, markets the products, and collects the royalties; or another which, if you are of a literary turn, tells you how to write, edits your manuscript, and peddles it to the publishers; or stilt another which will read all the newspapers for you and sift out the articles on subjects that specially interest you.
Of course, you take more or less recreation ? Look at this apparatus which will convert your row-boat into a motor launch in five minutes, and save you further slavery at the oars. If you are a wheelman, here is a motor-cycle which runs itself so that a legless man can ride it at his ease. Perhaps you have a fancy for photography ? Buy this book and you need no practice, but become an expert in exposure at one reading; and in it is an address to which you can send your exposed films and have them developed and prints made from them for a mere trifle.
Possibly you have inherited a fortune. Well, you can escape the worry of hunting investments, by availing yourself of the information gathered by a company whose trade is the investigation of all sorts of enterprises. Or, if you are a man with an enterprise but no capital, read this book, and learn the whole secret of financing your scheme. Nay, let us go still further back, to the stage where you have neither money nor ideas, and here stands a professional “ vocationist ” ready, for a consideration, to tell you exactly what occupation you are best fitted for; while from a dozen sources — elaborate textbooks, or university extensions, or correspondence schools — you can acquire, in the shortest time and with the smallest expenditure of effort, a facility in your chosen calling which in the old days would have cost you a long and toilsome apprenticeship.
Why multiply illustrations ? Are not here enough to show that the world is by degrees getting ready to lie abed all day and transact its business, from feeding the body to earning an income, by pressing a button or consulting a book? By and by will come a master mind which will invent an automatic reading apparatus, and a device for transmuting thought into force so as to do away with the need of even reaching for the button. The male citizen will then be able to buy his political conclusions already moulded, and have his vote cast for him by a patent polling machine; while for the mistress of the house will be contrived a set of appliances for driving tacks without the aid of her hair-brush, and opening tins when her embroidery scissors are mislaid.