A few days ago, a psychiatrist friend of mine informed me that he had to arragne his schedule to accommodate an emergency; one of his female patient's car had broken down and she could not cope. This led to a discussion of how many elements of life, some of quite recent vintage began as conveniences and then became necessities (or at least came to be perceived as such). The list grows annually, and it is easy to image some people becoming virtually helpless without a cell phone, microwave oven or internet access. There is an entire segment of society that would be jobless were it not for a functioning fax machine. It is sobering to think that national security can be compromised by some miscreant hacking into a computer and causing a power outage.
This observation is not new, of course. Emerson remarked upon the general principle in his essay Self Reliance:
Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it advances on the other. It undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not amelioration. FOr everything that is given, something is taken. Society acquires new arts and loses old instincts.
Social progress is a journey for which the luggage capacity is limited, and this makes it frightening for some. For each liberty that we wish to assume, it seems there is some virtue that must remain behind. A certain amount of soul must be left behind to make room for each scientific discovery. The real question is whether what we leave behind is more valuable than what we take.