Sometimes in conversation, particularly conversations taking places on docks at midnight under a veil of bright, shining stars, the question comes up: Are we living in the best possible era? Most agree that, yes, with our modern worldview, we’d struggle to be happy in decades or centuries past. Lacking modern conveniences that provide instant gratification, we’d invariably succumb to depression. Just think, no cell phones – no phones, even! Our expectation of a 24/7 social life would be shattered when we’re reduced to sending letters and waiting potentially months for a response. If we don’t receive a dozen texts in an hour, how do we know that we exist? And even if our social lives can take the hit, the loss of high-speed transportation, fresh food, and exciting pastimes would no doubt leave us distinctly unsatisfied with our time travel exploits.
I agree that, yes, we’re living in the best possible era, but I argue the point for a different reason. To me, everything post-indoor plumbing has been icing on the cake. Developed during the last half of the 19th century and common by only the mid-20th century, indoor plumbing has completely revolutionized the way we shit. I enjoy taking a dump as much or more than most people, but I consider it a crucial time of quiet reflection rather than an explosive body process best achieved quickly and efficiently. To me, taking a dump is the perfect time to peruse a magazine, finish a level on Angry Birds, or simply sit and consider the day and its potential. All of this, of course, only possible with decent, functional indoor plumbing.
Imagine, mid-winter, warm and cozy by the fire, a cup of hot chocolate steaming in your hands, when suddenly that familiar urge begins to percolate in your lower intestines. Instead of setting down the cup and trotting over to your spacious, well-lit bathroom, in pre-indoor plumbing eras this situation meant braving the blizzard to evacuate your bowels. Pulling on the snow suit, shoving aside a pile of snow to open the door, stomping through the drifts while a frigid wind blasts at your exposed face. By the time you reach the thin wooden shack that constitutes the shitter, the need to defecate has probably passed, the poop sucked back up into your body in an effort to sustain warmth. Even if it hasn’t and your butt’s about the explode, sitting down in the frozen shed with the wind howling around you and icicles forming on your testicles is no way to take a dump. There’s no satisfaction, no joy, no moment of climactic purity as your body flushes out its waste. There’s simply an anxious pressure to poop, wipe, and run back to the house. Maybe even skip the wipe.
There’s nothing else I can think of in our modern times that I hold so dear as the ability to take a comfortable, contemplative shit. I think reverting to letter-writing would be fantastic – I’m tired of instinctively checking my phone every twenty minutes. Planes are a fantastic invention, but trains are pretty damn cool too. Going even further back, I’d be comfortable riding a horse or even walking to get from one place to another. But if that place doesn’t have a nice warm room where I can poop like crazy, then count me out of that era. If my only option is to shit in a smelly outhouse, or even outside, leaning against a tree, I’m going to live in constant fear of a natural body process. It’s practically guaranteed I’ll become constipated. I might even die from holding all that poop in, simply because I don’t want to defecate without the relative comfort of a porcelain throne.
So yes, I think we live in the best possible era. But I don’t think it’s because we have microwaves and TVs and a variety of other labor-saving, happiness-improving devices. I think it’s because we have nice bathrooms.