Courtesy Reuters

Science and the Villager: The Last Sleeper Wakes

Before the 1920s, change in American agriculture was slow. Silent films of the time wonderfully record the dusty dirt roads, farm wagons and Model-T Fords passing by, threshers in overalls pitching bundles, small family farms with cows, pigs and chickens, and the speed and power of a rural way of life set by the three-mile-an-hour gait of the horse. By 1940, as highly mechanized, highly capitalized farming took over, this way of life was just a nostalgic memory. Since 1940 the number of Americans who farm has dropped from about 30 percent to less than three percent.1 This is probably the most fundamental change in modern American history. Its cultural consequences have still to be calculated.

If the 1920s and 1930s brought decisive change to American agriculture, the decade of the 1970s now is likely to be seen, if at a much lower level of technology, as the start of a similar turning point for many of the people of the Third World, particularly the Asians. These were the years when contraceptive devices-the Pill and IUD, not widely available until the mid-1960s-first reached the villages. Scientific agriculture did not fully win acceptance by Third World governments until the successful application of breakthroughs in tropical plant genetics in the late 1960s (and not until the late 1970s in China, where dwarf, fast-maturing, short-stemmed grain had to be crossed with local colder-climate varieties). The postcolonial expansion of primary education and the training abroad of large numbers of students in Western technology did not begin to pay off until the 1970s. Transistor radios came in early, but television did not reach substantial numbers of villages in China, India, Indonesia, Egypt, Mexico and elsewhere until the end of the decade.

The change that really mattered came in the mentality of the villagers once they saw concrete evidence of how Western technology could improve their lives. To try and date this more precisely: In 1978, after a five-year absence in Africa and Latin America, this writer returned to a

Loading, please wait...

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.