How Would People Live Today If They Did Not Invent Electricity?

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A Brief History

From August 14 through 28, 2003, a widespread power outage affected millions of people living throughout parts of the Northeastern and Midwestern United States, and the Canadian province of Ontario.  Today, though, it may be hard to imagine not just a couple weeks but rather a whole life without electricity.  Nevertheless, there has been indeed a time period when there was a world without electricity. We, the humans, have come a long way as a race and civilization. For instance, one can create a quality research paper about how people discovered fire, harnessed electricity and was able to create life as we know it bit by bit. Still, hypothetically, it would be fascinating to imagine how our lives would be like today if there is no electricity. There would have been a lot of downsides of living without electricity but also some perks of living in an unilluminated world.   We would explore both the sides in this article!

Digging Deeper

Hard Work; Harder Lives

American pioneers building the flatboat Adventure galley at Sumrill’s Ferry on the Youghiogheny River during March 1788.  The image is from the publication, History of the Ordinance of 1787 and the Old Northwest Territory (A Supplemental Text for School Use), Northwest Territory Celebration Commission, Marietta, Ohio (1937).

Our great grandfathers have lived without electricity and would have talked fondly about that time, with enough details to ink a high quality paper on it. Firstly, in a world without electricity, there would be no other inventions and household gadgets that could simplify lives, such as washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, etc., which means a lot of our time would have been spent in doing laborious household work, just like the pioneer men and women used to do. Water would have to be manually borne to households and farms. Without fans and air conditioning to cool us down in summers and heaters to warm us in winters, the comfort level would be much lower.

No Electricity – Means No Production

A steampunk-themed photograph by KyleCassidy (identity confirmed).

We should also consider that without electricity, industrialization and mass production would not have been possible. which does not mean that there would be no industries, but the technology used, and our efforts’ direction would have been different than now. We might be using a different form of energy like steam and hydraulics. There might be a way by which we utilize a different form of energy, and all our industries might be tailored to that technology or burning more fossil fuels. Lesser production means people would not be able to readily buy things they needed, or let us say that not everyone would be able to afford everything.

Ancient Manuscripts instead of Books

A page from the Aleppo Codex, Deuteronomy.  The Aleppo Codex is a medieval manuscript of the ancient Hebrew Bible (Tanakh). 

Moreover, without modern-day print technology, mass printing and distribution of newspapers, books and magazines would not have been possible. There would be literal and metaphorical darkness. So everyone would be studying in the candlelight and living in libraries, like those in ancient times, instead of visiting online domains and portals like Knowledge would not be as pervasive, broad and readily available as now. There would be no computers and digital libraries, no professional writing, research endeavors, digital or printed paper, academic service at a mass scale.

A Lesser Connected World

Internet café and library on the Golden Princess cruise ship.  Photograph by Larry D. Moore

Most importantly, in the absence of IT technology and gadgets like smartphones, laptops and tablets, there would be no social media, digital services and products, no research writing service, no home-based opportunities. We would not have found a way to connect with the audience across the globe. There would be no radio or television, and people would keep themselves entertained the old fashioned way, i.e., sitting by the bonfire, playing musical instruments and singing. The world would not have gotten connected as a global village. Life would be pretty simple and also boring. Or would it be? It is an aspect we would connect with later in the article.

Slower and Cumbersome Traveling

The Virgin of the Navigators by Alejo Fernández dating to between 1531 and 1536 and depicting Columbus and others of importance in the first years of Spanish exploration.

Humans are explorers and travelers by default. Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, and Vasco da Gamma all explored and traveled the world on steam-powered ships, mules and horses. Trade flourished, a cultural exchange took place and civilizations thrived.  Yet it is electronic communication channels that help in expediting traveling. You can create an itinerary, book tickets for your bus or flight and inform your loved ones about your arrival ahead of time. Electricity is what powers railway stations and gigantic airports. Still, it is fascinating how your smartphone can enable you to couch surf the world from your home.

The Absence of Electricity Could be a Blessing in Disguise!

Some features of the human circadian (24-hour) biological clock.  Diagram by YassineMrabet (talk).

A balanced view requires us to take into consideration to take not just the negative factors but also the positive ones related to the scenario. Without electricity, people would not be studying or working late or even watching TV. Our circadian cycles would have been in sync with nature, and everyone would be going to bed early and rising at the crack of dawn. A simpler lifestyle would have meant lesser health problems; however, the advancements in the medical field would have been lesser comparatively speaking, and people would die even in case of complications in simple diseases. There would not be so many newer jobs being created in newly emerging fields, but older professions would not have gone obsolete as well. Likewise, in the absence of electricity, we would have been burning more fossil fuels than now and increasing environmental pollution. Consumers would own fewer goods, and as a result, a lot lesser trash would end up in landfills.

Could We Have Been Happier?

Promotional image from the NBC website showing the main characters of the 1st season of Revolution.  The show takes place in the post-apocalyptic near-future of the year 2027, 15 years after the start of a worldwide, permanent electrical-power blackout in 2012.

For most of us, it is hard and even impossible to imagine life without electricity, technology and gadgets, but it is also said that what one does not have one does not miss. We must remember that ancient civilizations and cultures have not only existed but thrived without electricity. In some ways, they were far advanced than us. We have survived wars, famines, deadly diseases, and outbreaks, and natural and human-made disasters. What has, perhaps, helped us more than fate, is our natural inquisitiveness and our ability to think, discover and invent things. That is why people would have discovered electricity or an alternate source of energy anyhow, sooner or later. Most importantly, it is pertinent to ask ourselves would we have been happy, fulfilled in an unilluminated and simple life, or would we have been miserable? Newer inventions are supposed to simplify our lives, but at the same time, they ironically complicate it.  Yet, there is no denying that electricity has influenced our lives substantially and have altered the course of the human race.

Question for students (and subscribers): Do you think you could adjust to a world with no electricity?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Brach, Eric and Derek Cheung.  Conquering the Electron: The Geniuses, Visionaries, Egomaniacs, and Scoundrels Who Built Our Electronic Age.  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014.

Jonnes, Jill.  Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World.  Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2004.

The featured image in this article, satellite imagery from the Northeast blackout of 2003, is in the public domain because it contains materials that originally came from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, taken or made as part of an employee’s official duties.


About Author

Abdul Alhazred

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad." "How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland