For the past couple of weeks we have been re-watching "Larkrise to Candleford", the BBC series based on Flora Thompson's trilogy about rural life in England towards the end of the nineteenth century. The story depicts events in a small farming community, Larkrise, and the neighboring market town of Candleford.
Hidden from sight, but still beginning to encroach on their idyllic life is the industrial revolution. Their agrarian society is being modernized and some members of the community accept and even welcome the change while others, who perhaps see more clearly the implications of all the changes that the technological advances will make on their way of life, are not so welcoming. The small farms and the hired men and women who labor to plant and harvest by hand are destined to become redundant, their labor given over to mechanization. The hands that lovingly created lace or embroidered pillows would be replaced by machines that are much faster. The foods they ate, the local honey, the wild game, herbs and vegetables would disappear. Most importantly, even the quality of life and the deep relationships that were formed within communities dependent upon each other would be forever changed.
Some of the characters sense that they are not prepared, that their skills will not be useful in the future, that they may have to acquire new skills in order to survive. Alf, one of the characters suddenly realizes that he needs to be able to read. Others can see no reason for changing and some even think that all of the new inventions are a tool of the devil.
We all know what happens. Industrial revolution follows industrial revolution. The automobile gave us the ability to travel further than ten or twenty miles in a day. The airplane enabled us to see the world and opened the most remote corner of the world to everyone.
It would be nice to think that changing times would bring out the best in people, but that was not the case with the Larkrise and Candleford folks, just as it is not the case during the changing times we are now experiencing. Even then, there were those who saw changing times as the chance to take advantage of their fellow men. There were rents to be raised, fines to be levied and new laws to be enacted to keep opportunity away from the common folk, Some saw the tractor as a marvelous beast of burden, others saw it merely as a beast that would drive them off of the land.
Suddenly, their quiet peaceful corner of England became a battle ground pitting those in favor of the newest invention against those who saw their way of life disappearing. At one point, Laura, the narrator of the story, and one of the principal characters, asks her mother about the friction arising between neighbors who used to be friends, "Why are we at war?" Her mother's response is simple. "These are changing times."
These are changing times. We need to take that into consideration when we wonder about all of the vitriol and hate that is erupting from both sides today. These are changing times. There are some who are able to take advantage of the change for their own benefit and there are those who are not yet able to cope with the changes that are have taken place and the changes that are still to come.
Those who are wise can see the handwriting on the wall. This technological or digital revolution is more than just the difference between those that are able to use a 'smart phone' and those who cannot. Factory worker positions are becoming a thing of the past. Who needs a human when a machine is cheaper and more efficient. Fast food jobs, positions that put millions of students through school, are disappearing just as rapidly, being replaced by self serve kiosks. Even the supermarket and stores which have occupied a prominent place in our communities for generations are being replaced by on-line retailers.
Will we survive all of the chaos brought about by our changing times and circumstances? History says we will, but we may have to hold on tight until the dust settles. We need to hold on tight to our integrity and our neighbors. We need to make sure that the weakest are not left behind. We must ensure that everyone finds a safe place in the new technological landscape that is forming around us. We must not be at war with each other just because the times are changing.