1227: The Pace of Modern Life

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The Pace of Modern Life
'Unfortunately, the notion of marriage which prevails ... at the present time ... regards the institution as simply a convenient arrangement or formal contract ... This disregard of the sanctity of marriage and contempt for its restrictions is one of the most alarming tendencies of the present age.' --John Harvey Kellogg, Ladies' guide in health and disease (1883)
Title text: 'Unfortunately, the notion of marriage which prevails ... at the present time ... regards the institution as simply a convenient arrangement or formal contract ... This disregard of the sanctity of marriage and contempt for its restrictions is one of the most alarming tendencies of the present age.' --John Harvey Kellogg, Ladies' guide in health and disease (1883)

[edit] Explanation

The debate as to whether or not the pace of modern life is detrimental to society, culture, and the human experience in general has been going on for longer than we may realize. Presently, the debate has focused on technology such as smartphones, tablets, and other portable electronics; however, many of the same arguments were made against newspapers, magazines, telegraphs, telephones, and even written correspondence 100 years ago.

People often tend to think of older times as better. The people complaining compare their present time to the time they lived in before, that is, a couple of decades ago, and this has been happening for over a century (at least). This comic makes a point that the older times people refer to, were also criticized in exactly the same fashion. Since the same criticism is applied to each generation by the generation before that one, every generation thinks that the one they were born in is the good one. This is presentism as explained by Randall in comic 24.

The comic begins and ends with very similar arguments, perhaps emphasizing how these debates cycle and repeat over time. The comic does not directly state whether these opinions and criticisms were justified or simple fallacies. There is a desire to consider our present existence as good and reasonable and that society has been improving over time. The difficulty lies in considering the possibility that each generation was perhaps correct in their criticism.

On reading all of these quotes, one may find these quotes redundant and tiresome to read. Readers may find themselves skimming the text and skipping several quotes once they get the overall idea. This could be a self-referential point demonstrating that the writing style of older times was less convenient than the oft-criticized brief modern style.

Some parts of all that long texts are in bold, others not. Here is the summary for only this bold text, picturing just our Modern World:

The art of letter-writing is fast dying out. We fire off a multitude of rapid and short notes, instead of sitting down to have a good talk over a real sheet of paper.
In olden times it was different. Men now live think and work at express speed. Sulkily read as they travel leaving them no time to talk with the friend who may share the compartment with them.
The age of leisure is dead, and the art of conversation is dying. A craving for literary nips. There never was an age in which so many people were able to write badly.
The art of pure line engraving is dying out. We live at too fast a rate nothing is left to the imagination and human faculty dwindle away amid the million inventions that have been introduced to render its exercise unnecessary.
Thirty pages is now too much. Fifteen pages further condensed a summary of the summary.
Those who are dipping into so many subjects and gathering information in a summary and superficial form lose the habit of settling down to great works.
Hurried reading can never be good reading. Mental and nervous degeneration among a growing class of people, a brain incapable of normal working in a large measure due to the hurry and excitement of modern life, almost instantaneous communication between remote points of the globe.
Teach the children how to play instead of shutting them in badly ventilated schoolrooms, increased demand made by the conditions of modern life upon the brain.
We talk across a continent, telegraph across an ocean, we take even our pleasures sadly and make a task of our play.
The managers of sensational newspapers create perverted tastes and develop vicious tendencies.
To take sufficient time for our meals seems frequently impossible, may I be permitted to say a word in favour of a very worthy and valuable old friend of mine, Mr. Long walk? I am afraid that this good gentleman is in danger of getting neglected, if not forgotten.
People talk as they ride bicycles–at a rush–without pausing to consider their surroundings the profession of letters is so little understood, tendency among the children of today to rebel against restraint. Our modern family gathering, silent, each individual with his head buried in his favourite magazine, deal openly with situations which no person would have dared to mention in general society forty years ago.
A hundred years ago it took so long and cost so much to send a letter that it seemed worth while to put some time and thought into writing it. A brief letter to-day may be followed by another next week–a "line" now by another to-morrow.

The title text shows that the meaning of the institute of marriage debate has likewise been going on for quite some time.

[edit] Transcript

The art of letter-writing is fast dying out. When a letter cost nine pence, it seemed but fair to try to make it worth nine pence ... Now, however, we think we are too busy for such old-fashioned correspondence. We fire off a multitude of rapid and short notes, instead of sitting down to have a good talk over a real sheet of paper.
The Sunday Magazine
1871
It is, unfortunately, one of the chief characteristics of modern business to be always in a hurry. In olden times it was different.
The Medical Record
1884
With the advent of cheap newspapers and superior means of locomotion... The dreamy quiet old days are over... For men now live think and work at express speed. They have their Mercury or Post laid on their breakfast table in the early morning, and if they are too hurried to snatch from it the news during that meal, they carry it off, to be sulkily read as they travel ... leaving them no time to talk with the friend who may share the compartment with them... The hurry and bustle of modern life ... lacks the quiet and repose of the period when our forefathers, the day's work done, took their ease...
William Smith, Morley: Ancient and Modern
1886
Conversation is said to be a lost art ... Good talk presupposes leisure, both for preparation and enjoyment. The age of leisure is dead, and the art of conversation is dying.
Frank Leslie's popular Monthly, Volume 29
1890
Intellectual laziness and the hurry of the age have produced a craving for literary nips. The torpid brain ... has grown too weak for sustained thought.
There never was an age in which so many people were able to write badly.
Israel Zangwill, The Bachelors' Club
1891
The art of pure line engraving is dying out. We live at too fast a rate to allow for the preparation of such plates as our fathers appreciated. If a picture catches the public fancy, the public must have an etched or a photogravured copy of it within a month or two of its appearance, the days when engravers were wont to spend two or three years over a single plate are for ever gone.
Journal of the Institute of Jamaica, Volume 1
1892
So much is exhibited to the eye that nothing is left to the imagination. It sometimes seems almost possible that the modern world might be choked by its own riches, and human faculty dwindle away amid the million inventions that have been introduced to render its exercise unnecessary.
The articles in the Quarterlies extend to thirty or more pages, but thirty pages is now too much so we witness a further condensing process and, we have the Fortnightly and the Contemporary which reduce thirty pages to fifteen pages so that you may read a larger number of articles in a shorter time and in a shorter form. As if this last condensing process were not enough the condensed articles of these periodicals are further condensed by the daily papers, which will give you a summary of the summary of all that has been written about everything.
Those who are dipping into so many subjects and gathering information in a summary and superficial form lose the habit of settling down to great works.
Ephemeral literature is driving out the great classics of the present and the past ... hurried reading can never be good reading.
G. J. Goschen, First Annual Address to the Students, Toynbee Hall. London
1894
The existence of mental and nervous degeneration among a growing class of people, especially in large cities, is an obvious phenomenon ... the mania for stimulants ... diseases of the mind are almost as numerous as the diseases of the body... This intellectual condition is characterized by a brain incapable of normal working ... in a large measure due to the hurry and excitement of modern life, with its facilities for rapid locomotion and almost instantaneous communication between remote points of the globe...
The Churchman, Volume 71
1895
If we teach the children how to play and encourage them in their sports ... instead of shutting them in badly ventilated schoolrooms, the next generation will be more joyous and will be healthier than the present one.
Public Opinion: A Comprehensive Summary of the Press Throughout the World, Volume 18
1895
The cause of the ... increase in nervous disease is increased demand made by the conditions of modern life upon the brain. Everything is done in a hurry. We talk across a continent, telegraph across an ocean, take a trip to Chicago for an hour's talk... We take even our pleasures sadly and make a task of our play ... what wonder if the pressure is almost more than our nerves can bear.
G. Shrady (from P.C. Knapp)
"Are nervous diseases increasing?" Medical Record
1896
The managers of sensational newspapers ... do not try to educate their readers and make them better, but tend to create perverted tastes and develop vicious tendencies. The owners of these papers seem to have but one purpose, and that is to increase their circulation.
Medical Brief, Volume 26
1898
To take sufficient time for our meals seems frequently impossible on account of the demands on our time made by our business... We act on the apparent belief that all of our business is so pressing that we must jump on the quickest car home, eat our dinner in the most hurried way, make the closest connection for a car returning ...
Louis John Rettger. Studies in Advanced Physiology
1898
In these days of increasing rapid artificial locomotion, may I be permitted to say a word in favour of a very worthy and valuable old friend of mine, Mr. Long Walk?
I am afraid that this good gentleman is in danger of getting neglected, if not forgotten. We live in days of water trips and land trips, excursions by sea, road and rail-bicycles and tricycles, tram cars and motor cars .... but in my humble opinion, good honest walking exercise for health beats all other kinds of locomotion into a cocked hat.
T. Thatcher, "A plea for a long walk",
The Publishers Circular
1902
The art of conversation is almost a lost one. People talk as they ride bicycles–at a rush–without pausing to consider their surroundings ... what has been generally understood as cultured society is rapidly deteriorating into baseness and voluntary ignorance. The profession of letters is so little understood, and so far from being seriously appreciated, that ... Newspapers are full, not of thoughtful honestly expressed public opinion on the affairs of the nation, but of vapid personalities interesting to none save gossips and busy bodies.
Marie Corelli,
Free opinions, freely expressed
1905
There is a great tendency among the children of today to rebel against restraint, not only that placed upon them by the will of the parent. But against any restraint or limitation of what they consider their rights ... this fact has filled well minded people with great apprehensions for the future.
Rev. Henry Hussmann,
The authority of parents
1906
Our modern family gathering, silent around the fire, each individual with his head buried in his favourite magazine, is the somewhat natural outcome of the banishment of colloquy from the school ...
The Journal of Education, Volume 29
1907
Plays in theatres at the present time present spectacles and deal openly with situations which no person would have dared to mention in general society forty years ago... The current representations of nude men and women in the daily journals and the illustrated magazines would have excluded such periodicals from all respectable families two decades ago... Those who have been divorced ... forty and fifty years ago lost at once and irrevocably their standing in society, while to-day they continue in all their social relationships, hardly changed...
Editorial, The Watchman, Boston
1908
We write millions more letters than did our grandfathers, but the increase in volume has brought with it an automatic artificial machine-like ring ... an examination of a file of old letters reveals not only a remarkable grasp of details. But a fitness and courtliness too often totally lacking in the mechanical curt cut and dried letters of to-day.
Forrest Crissey, Handbook of Modern Business Correspondence
1908
A hundred years ago it took so long and cost so much to send a letter that it seemed worth while to put some time and thought into writing it. Now the quickness and the cheapness of the post seem to justify the feeling that a brief letter to-day may be followed by another next week–a "line" now by another to-morrow.
Percy Holmes Boynton, Principles of Composition
1915
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Discussion

Is it sad that after reading the first few, I thought "TL; DR" and found myself skim reading most of them since I'm meant to be working right now and not reading xkcd? ‎90.152.3.226 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

That's obviously what's intended 155.56.68.216 09:53, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

I agree that this point was possibly intended and added text to the analysis, explicitly pointing it out. Jimbob (talk) 16:25, 20 June 2013 (UTC)

It was not what was intended. Randall used all those quotes to build a compelling argument. The fact that some people "don't have time" to read them all is simply a supporting case, albeit one that each person will have to come to personally. 108.162.219.223 18:05, 7 January 2014 (UTC)


I don't think it's sad. According to my 11th Grade Literary Analysis, the propensity to take shortcuts is a fundamental flaw in human nature, but introductory Psychology lauded our use of heuristics. I say you should find meaning in your humanity and ability to set your own priorities and allocate just enough resources to various aspects of your life in order to succeed in life where the objectives are unclear.98.166.43.28 12:06, 19 June 2013 (UTC)DBrak

The topic made me slow down, read, and understand. Perhaps the point was lost on me, but the expressions from a century ago seem much like those made today. One can't help but wonder if that means they were wrong then and wrong now or if our society was in a century long devolutionary spiral, terminating with Twitter or whatever is coming next. --108.34.230.242 10:02, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

Had this continued to present day the most recent entry would be something like this:

lol didnt read #tldr #boredalready #yawn
- Most of 'Civilisation', Social Media
2013

77.86.53.65 12:11, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

Just added an explanation. Unfortunately, there's no transcript provided in the source code and I don't have time to type all that out (who does?). Also, I have no idea what to use for categories. Any suggestions? Smperron (talk) 12:36, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

Not a suggestion, but does anyone know if Randall types or writes it out, or copies and pastes? --Luckymustard (talk) 13:04, 19 June 2013 (UTC)
Looks like the letterforms are identical -- my guess is a custom font. 66.202.132.250 14:16, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

If this comic was meant to say that we should give up on these types of arguments, this comic did the opposite effect: I actually AGREE with all of this!

I mean, I tend to write long private messages, while the longest replies I get are also the most satisfying, since they tell me quite a bit of the recipient. Relatedly, I prefer to write long responses to pieces of artwork when I comment on art sites, telling people exactly why I like the art... what shines... what needs to be polished. (Of course, I am going to need to find a way to simply stay at a work and truly take in what is presented.) In fact, letter restrictions sometimes restrict me too much. I DO need to be more social, not having any reading material at hand (whether the material be a newspaper or a video game). I dislike people PUSHING me to look around myself; this is something I do automatically. In fact, while I like staying inside and exploring the wonders of the Internet hours on end, I also like going outside alone and looking around myself, seeing the wonders that other people ignore (probably because other people are too busy talking to yet other people). There really is a mental degeneration (You can see this for yourself in the comments other people leave in websites.) and addiction to stimulants. In fact, stress (and DIStress) is one of the main reasons why we have cancer far more often that the non-developed parts of the world, since stress compromises the body severely. Play, while easily abused, is never the less a necessary part of development, even while an adult. I wish I could keep up pace with the world, but I also hope, for the sake of the world and myself, that the world slows down to me. You can see for yourself how newspapers are being scandalous. I myself suffer from eating foods too quickly (yet there is the problem of ants and spoilage if I take TOO long when eating, a sad possibility due to me preferring to eat at the computer.) Rebellion (a problem that even I suffer) does cause people to want their own way, not knowing that they are just being a slave to impulses, their authorities having the experience to liberate them for the things that their subordinates really do want and shall really want. (The rebels do not want others to 'cramp their style,' but they fail to learn basic anatomy and lighting, much less on making a pleasing style!) There is an entropy in displayed morals, yet that is something that requires changing the hearts of people, though we can control this by 'starving' the problematic media (another bit of advice with which even I also struggle, my curiosity provoking me to see things that should not be seen), since they only proliferate if there are people to feed them. People all around us know that marriage feel into disarray. While legally-backed homosexuality (and, soon, polygamy), and, to an extent, abortion (regardless of the reason) have been causing their problems, marriage already fell in disarray when divorce (that is, breaking a lifetime vow), pornography (that is, selling the private bodies of people for your selfish desires), promiscuity, and birth control (that is, using a reproductive function for non-reproductive reasons and otherwise abusing the reproductive function) already led themselves to an array of evils.

Again, people would probably just skip my wall of text here, but I feel that I need to make my old-fashioned (whether for worse or better) opinion heard here. Greyson (talk) 15:16, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

In my honest opinion, your wall of text is a work of art in itself. I wholeheartedly agree with you, and I am the next generation. Life has been sped up too fast for us, and it is too often that I see my peers on their devices, or trying to do too many things at once. You make many valid points and good observations. ~Alithia 108.162.241.5 14:15, 4 March 2014 (UTC)

-- So, the argument has been going on for a long time. Does this comic imply that (1) we perceive that the pace of life was slower in the old days, but has always been as fast as it is today, or (2) that the pace of life has actually been speeding up for a very long time now? 194.176.105.141 15:31, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

I think that the pace of life has been speeding up for a long time now. Greyson (talk) 18:59, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

Added to the explanation, please correct any grammar, composition, or repetition mistakes, thank you. -- 186.124.46.183 16:40, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

Did anyone else notices that you can get the gist by only reading the bolded text? It's probably a just me. Anyone want to take the time to compile the bold text only and place it in the explination? Crsoccerfreak19 (talk) 18:47, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

I didn't see this before, but I think that work is a great idea. So my next job here is to work on that an checking if this does make sense. Thanks for your hint.--Dgbrt (talk) 20:39, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

I did an full update to the transcript. I used the existing parts here, many thanks to the contributors, the free web site OCR Online (the only one did work, in fact it did work as a hell) and LibreOffice Writer for changing the case to lower case. After that it was just some manual work without typing all that text.--Dgbrt (talk) 18:13, 19 June 2013 (UTC)


The meaning I took from this comic was very much Plus ca change. There are translated Roman messages that say very similar things about the current state of Latin, and I bet even that was merely an inadvertent echo of prior ages. As one who can be very verbose with (at least intended) correct spelling, grammar and vocabulary, I could go on at great length about how this works for the current day, but on this occasion shall restrain myself. Yours faithfully 178.98.31.27 20:56, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

Adding 'the sub text':


The art of letter-writing is fast dying out. We fire off a multitude of rapid and short notes, instead of sitting down to have a good talk oer a real sheet of paper.

In olden times it was different.

Men now live think and work at express speed. Sulkily read as they travel ... leaving them no time to talk with the friend who may share the compartment with them.

The age of leisure is dead, and the art of conversation is dying.

A craving for literary nips. There never was an age in which so many people were able to write badly.

The art of pure line engraving is dying out. We live at too fast a rate.

Nothing is left to the imagination. And human faculty dwindle away amid the million inventions that have been introduced to render its exercise unnecessary. Thirty pages is now too much. Fifteen pages. Further condensed. A summary of the summary. Those who are dipping into so many subjects and gathering information in a summary and superficial form lose the habit of settling down to great works. Hurried reading can never be good reading.

Mental and nervous degeneration among a growing class of people. Brain incapable of normal working... in a large measure due to the hurry and excitement of modern life. Almost instantaneous communication between remote points of the globe.

Teach the children how to play. Instead of shutting them in badly ventilated schoolrooms.

Increased demand made by the conditions of modern life upon the brain. We talk across a continent, telegraph across an ocean. We take even our pleasures sadly and make a task of our play.

The managers of sensational newspapers. Create perverted tastes and develop vicious tendencies.

To take sufficient time for our meals seems frequently impossible.

May I be permitted to say a word in favour of a very worthy and valuable old friend of mine, Mr. Long Walk? I am afraid that this good gentleman is in danger of getting neglected, if not forgotten.

People talk as they ride bicycles - at a rush - without pausing to consider their surroundings. The profession of letters is so little understood.

There is a tendency among the children of today to rebel against restraint.

Our modern family gathering, silent. Each individual with his head buried in his favourite magazine.

Deal openly with situations which no person would have dared to mention in general society forty years ago. Nude men and women in the daily journals.

Fitness and courtliness too often totally lacking.

A hundred years ago it took sol long and cost so much to send a letter that it seemed worth while to put some time and thought into writing it. A brief letter to-day may be followed by another next week - a "line" now by another to-morrow. 209.217.94.93 21:27, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

Thanks [209.217.94.93], I will put in my version here and I am happy if you can correct possible mistakes.--Dgbrt (talk) 21:58, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

Can anyone validate these are true quotes? I tried searching for the one in Google Books for Morley: Ancient and Modern and it came up with no results. They're great quotes, but is it possible they're made up?--119.224.37.9 07:31, 20 June 2013 (UTC)

At least one of the quotes is real: "So much is exhibited to the eye that nothing is left to the imagination" http://books.google.com/books?id=nc_UAAAAMAAJ&lpg=PA265&ots=AAC4OimA5D&dq=%22So%20much%20is%20exhibited%20to%20the%20eye%20that%20nothing%20is%20left%20to%20the%20imagination%22&pg=PA265#v=onepage&q=%22So%20much%20is%20exhibited%20to%20the%20eye%20that%20nothing%20is%20left%20to%20the%20imagination%22&f=false 216.55.56.42 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The only point this comic is trying to make is that yes the olden times were different, but they were not as different as we suppose. The people had exactly the same intelligence and capacities as we do today, and apparently shared the same concerns about change, and the detrimental effect it will have on all parts of society. OF course, every generation puts itself in the position of greatest importance, and believes that the present moment is of the highest criticality. Sorry folks - get over yourselves. It isn't true. 108.162.219.223 18:05, 7 January 2014 (UTC)


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