Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Amundsen at the South Pole

It's the centennial today, Dec. 14, 1911. And, aside from a kerosene heater or two, Amundsen did it all with Upper Paleolithic technology - with the help of a lot of prior preparation and an indispensable co-evolved species known as the dog.

Scott, perhaps better known through his tragedy, was beaten to the pole by a good five weeks. It's hard to understand how Scott considered the use of sled dogs bad sportsmanship. Somehow, the use of gasoline powered tractors and ponies was not. I suppose incompetence and poor planning made up for any unacknowledged "cheating", especially once the tractors broke down and the ponies died of exposure, and Scott was forced to use Lower Paleolithic technology, pulling the sledges by hand.

It's kind of weird to think of how things have changed and not changed over the course of one hundred years. If I look around my place and subtract all the things that were not around one hundred years ago, the place would be quite threadbare. Lamps, I guess, would be there. A telephone, seeing as I am quite possibly the last man on earth with a landline. But the TV, the VCR/DVD player, the computer, the clock radio, the electric stove, the refrigerator, not only all in the future, but many of the components still in the future. (If you wonder about the appalling sparseness of current shit, well no, I am not a Luddite. I'm a late adopter. I prefer you get the metaphorical cell-phone shaped tumor on the side of your head, and then when that kink is gotten out of that piece of technology, I'll get it).

Then again, would someone from 1911 feel at his ease in my home. Of course. Most of the stuff unfamiliar to him would still be conceptually familiar. Why, even the computer, would be understandable and predictable.  True, something of a marvel, but still something understandable.

What wouldn't be? Oh, well, I'd be a lot stinkier back then, with bad skin, bad breath and missing teeth, and probably smallpox scars. Probably a tapeworm, or if I lived south of the Mason-Dixon line, "seasoned" by malaria. I'd be threatened with diphtheria, scarlet fever, tetanus, tuberculosis, just to name a short few of the many diseases. 1911 is just at the end of the completion of many US sanitary projects, so I would just now be able to drink water that did not have someone else's shit in it.

Oh, and, I'd be ten years past the average life span and probably dying of stomach cancer (now practically non-existent).

So, that's all working out pretty well.


  1. I'm not so sure that your visitor from a century ago would so easily understand the computer. I remember well the first time I was introduced to a computer, about 15 years ago, and it made no sense to me at all, I couldn't get my head around it. How could a single machine do so many completely unrelated things? Draw pictures, type letters, visit far away places...come to think of it, the notion of "visiting" through a machine made no sense to me. Now I work entirely digitally and it all seems like second nature. But it was completely foreign to me when I first met this contraption for the first time.

  2. No actually , you are probably right. I guess we forget how, though a lot of things are recognizable even to some one from 5,000 years ago (they'd figure out what a house was), that seom things are just completely alien. Like, even someone from twenty years ago would probably freak at the current mobile phones.

  3. Yes! I was watching a Seinfeld last night and Elaine was alarmed that Norm, the mailman, was reading her seemed so quaint: people communicating by writing on paper, delivered by a human being to your house.

  4. Hah! And now we get all of our information through a glass tube via electronic tele-typewriter, to coin a neologism.

    Why, I've heard tell some people actually speak and listen through it as well, as if it were some type of talking machine!