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Not busy. Complex.

People are fond of talking about how busy they are these days. More specifically, they enjoy lamenting about how busy the modern world has become.

I’m not a fan of this complaint.

I suspect that the colonists of the early eighteenth century – who grew all their food, made their own clothing, heated their own homes, and battled every element absent any substantial government service – were quite busy, too.

Perhaps even more so.

The same probably holds true for Americans struggling through the Great Depression, World War II, or any number of times in American history. To propose that we are busier today than our predecessors strikes me as ego-centric and shortsighted.

Recency bias at its best.

We’re not inherently busier than our predecessors. In fact, so much of life has gotten a lot easier thanks to advances in technology. As I write these words, a machine is washing my dishes. Another is drying my clothing. Others are heating my home, keeping my food chilled, and brightening my room. And except for the press of a couple of buttons and the flick of a switch, I did nothing to make any of this happen.

I’m writing this sentence on a machine that allows me to check my spelling and correct typos instantaneously. It offers me the answer to almost any factual question by simply typing the question. It preserves all of my work in several places without any effort on my part. It allows me to contact people all over the planet with a few simple keystrokes.

Do you really think we’re busier than an 18th-century American?

I don’t think so.

What I might argue, however, is that the world is more complex today than ever before. Human beings are required to process more information and data than at any other time in human history. As technology evolves and expands, so, too, does the requirement to master that ever-changing technology. We’re also more connected to other people today than ever before, thus widening social circles that we must then manage and navigate.

The world has perhaps grown incredibly complex, but busier?

Try living in the winter of 1743, when nearly every bit of heat, light, food, drink, and clothing was made through your hard labor alone.

Or how about January of 1862, at the height of the Civil War?

Or the fall of 1904, when children were working alongside adults in factories and mills up and down the east coast?

You may be busy today, and the world may be more complex than ever before, but I hardly think you’re busier than previous generations.