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We have not tamed electricity

Lead Summary
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

I read somewhere that people today in developed countries have at their fingertips, the equivalent of 300 servants as compared to the times of the Middle Ages. Largely, through electrical gadgets, we enjoy this luxury without even being conscious of it.

Some of this is attributable to clever mechanical devices, but at the end of most of these there is an electric motor or some other electronic controller.

In my privileged life, I get to experience this, and I have some time away from these devices when I spend times with my Mennonite friends. I must tell you, every time I leave my Mennonite sojourn, it becomes harder and harder to return to the crazy, electrically fed world.

The siren song of convenience is hard to resist, but with my perspective I am now at least conscious of the harm this convenience causes us. And I lay it at the feet of electricity (and my inability to resist these horrid devices).

The first and most obvious harm is this: electricity has given us an overabundance of idle time. While inventing things to take away drudgery (ever washed clothes by hand?) our taming of electricity has often taken us too far.

That little old soap company in Cincinnati which I often mention not only helped take the drudgery out of the weekly wash by cooperating with electric washing machine manufacturers, but it also offered up soap operas, first on radio (an electrical device), then on television (another electrical device), to absorb the time the laundress now found suddenly at hand.

Yet, that soap opera was offered not only on the traditional laundry day of Monday, but every day of the week, in times that may have formerly been used for more wholesome pursuits. Don’t laugh. In no way can you tell me watching “Days of our Lives” is a wholesome pursuit.

What if it took us three months to hear about the war in Ukraine instead of seeing live, color images and video instantly? Would this change our perspective for better or worse? The battlefield is full of electrical and electronic devices. Has this made the world a more peaceful place?

In the 1980s, I read of the interview of a long-lived thespian who had recently died. The interviewer asked him what the most astounding change in the theater was in his lifetime. Without missing a beat, he said, “electricity.”

Now society has accused the generation of electricity for causing climate change and proposes to fix that problem with beer-can-esque generating devices covering once fertile farm fields. It never ends.

Following, for example, the elusive allure of electricity, as I have gotten older, I erroneously determined that yard work would be better handled by modern devices. We installed an irrigation system, a robotic lawn mower, an automatic generator that comes on if our electricity stops and on and on.

Our yard is a snake pit of buried wires, all belonging to different conveniences. One technician arrives to work on one thing (say, the sprinkler system) and in the process cuts the wiring for a couple of others. It takes weeks of careful orchestration to get once again everything working as intended. And don’t get me started on all the passwords required to make these devices work only for us.

What a lie this has all become.

No, we have not tamed electricity, we have merely loosed it on an unsuspecting population.

On a local, national and international level, we are not handling it well. Someday, I may be writing these columns on goldenrod paper and mailing them in – if I am lucky.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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