It's a common scene comparing ancient time vs. today, and the common context of such comparison is that people in today's world, enabled by information revolution and its technologies, is overwhelmed by these bits in term of sensibility, thus deriving a conclusion that either we are becoming less and less sensitive, or that we are smarter than before. The former, however, I disagree.
It's easy to picture someone sitting in front of a TV these days and his sense is being saturated by violence, vulgarity, and sex, the three element that, according to this book, are the forever winner if you want to sell in a commercialist world.
However, I have long been thinking that the so called ancient time has been romantized in the same way that we view history in our lens — what we deem as evil and barbarian back then was not really so if you entered a time machine and truly lived in it; same applied to glories and achievements, and I'm sure same is true for everything between.
What jumped to my mind is the book 水浒, the Song dynasty that so many elites these days are yearning to go back "if given me the choice". Yet, I think everyone will then agree that if measured by today's standard of comfort, life back then was quite harsh, if not being outwright brutal — you not only will witness beggars on the street, poor people who were by the brink of starvation, everywhere, but pretty commonly there would be some dead body on the street or a fight broke out ended up with someone dead! Well, then I'm talking about a whole pile of mess that is associated with any death — blood, body parts (think of the poor squirrels or turtles I have been seeing all through this summer on the road run over by traffic!), disformed body, and odor! We, today's audience, are used to seeing death in such an abstract form projected by a LED screen that only the sense of eye and ear are involved — if even going by the math, that is only 40% of the five senses we have equipped to collect signals for brain. That number, if put into any other context, would have already become suspicious if one claims a 40% represents the whole truth!
Further, today's civilization has shielded most of us so far from such brutality of life, especially thanks for the advance of industrialization and ideology, that very few of us are given the chance to experience these scenes that ancient people were living with as a routine. How many times the book has mentioned someone being executed in public by chopping his head off? and this isn't distant memory at all for the entire world counting both the East and the West! Well, if you want to talk about how traumatizing an experience a person can sustain, watching someone being killed, even as a bystander, is ranked high on the list for sure!
Coming from my own experience also. I recall when I was little, there were quite a few knocks on the door when someone was going door to door begging for food, quoted that they were refugees from some inland states escaping from famine and hunger. No kidding. So in my generation, in my own time, the memory of such existed, happened, and it was very much stronger to one's brain and conscience than watching a horror movie on your couch!
Then, there is always the BS praise of yesterday's wonders, especially those wonder of construction in some massive scale that is hardly imaginable in today's life with today's equipments. They are wonders. But few, if any, of these praisers will want to live in that time and became part of the construction force so to become a participant, or even creator, of such wonders! It's utterly disgusting then that China's elites are trumpeting the achievements of the past as an evidence of the long life of the Chinese civilization, and sometimes even singing the praise of the emperor/authority as the genius/hero of the race, yet they hide themselves in today's civilization knowing there is zero risk of going back in time, if they love it so much! This is the definition of 叶公好龙, isn't it!?
— by Feng Xia