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Victorian Values

Michael Wilson wonders how our antecedents would have coped with the pace of modern life?


vicar2The house where I live was once occupied by a late 19th century country vicar. The Reverend Pinctus Bacon (no, honestly) was a respected pillar of society, a former missionary, and an intrepid saviour of souls.

And I bet he didn’t work as hard as I do. Or you, for that matter.

On Wednesday afternoons, the Reverend Pinctus would have gone duck shooting with the bishop. On Saturdays he’d have been out with the village hunt. When he got home, his fires would have been laid and his dinner would be in the oven. And when he had to go to town, he’d saddle up his horse and trap and spend a blissfully vacant couple of hours on the eight-mile return trip, probably dropping in somewhere for a glass of porter along the way.

Wake Up Call

When I go to town, I get fifteen minutes in the car with my in-car mobile phone keeping me permanently on the job. If I don’t respond to an email within ten minutes, I’ll probably get a call demanding to know what’s wrong? I don’t have an ecclesiastical calendar, but I bet mine is fuller than Pinctus’s. And if my work is late, there’s not much point in blaming the postman.

It’s easy to lament those lost and lingering days, when a man of professional standing had time to wax his moustache and dictate a letter. And equally easy to forget how much more efficient technology has made us.

We communicate instantly, whether we like it or not. And you rarely see an empty haulier’s lorry on the road, because they hook up to the internet and find out where to find the next load that needs shifting from B to C and then on to E. That cuts costs, reduces inventories and avoids wasting fuel. We’re all better for it.

For advisers, technology revolutionises everything. Brokers don’t sit by their phones as they used to even thirty years ago, drinking Bordeaux while they waited for batches of share certificates to arrive in the post. We don’t get weeks in which to respond to a developing conflict in Yemen or Crimea – nothing much changes, does it? – just minutes. Our screens rule our lives. And we are never, never allowed to be out of touch. Compliance and Martin Wheatley both demand it.

That’s exhausting, in a 24/7 way that the Reverend Pinctus would have struggled to comprehend. But would we willingly go back even thirty years? I doubt it.

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