For those old enough to remember when computers were giant machines filling a whole room and mobile phones included an uncomfortably heavy battery attachment, the advances of the modern age are, indeed, wondrous.

We now have cars that do everything including drive themselves, and cellphones that just do everything.

We have robots, now known as "bots", that don't just do the repetitive, menial tasks on the production line but also handle masses of information and complete office tasks with an ease that will likely see many a desk-bound worker out of a job.

We are such smart-alecs here in the 21st century and will readily pat ourselves on the back in recognition of our omnipotent awesomeness. We are just so doggone clever.

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And yet, while technology has advanced at a thunderous rate, are we really so much smarter?

These thoughts came to mind when I read the prologue to Murray Crawford's new book, Whimsical Tales of Old Wanganui, an amused reflection on news reports about the coming and goings in our town from more than 100 years ago.

It is tempting to look back - and to look down - on these folk from the late 19th century with their quaint ways and odd foibles, and smile to ourselves at how far we have come.

When reading the marvellously entertaining true stories, we may feel an air of smug sophistication and look upon that bygone society with a certain amount of disdain.

But it is - as Crawford says - a glimpse at how our forebears lived their lives, and we may not be so very different.

Certain themes span the decades: the spelling of Wanganui/Whanganui; organising traffic flows in the city; drainage issues; crime concerns; dangerous footpaths; the goings-on at council; the hubris of local politicians and power-brokers.

As we look back on those people and events with, perhaps, a slight sneer, Crawford ponders how our descendants will look back at us, suggesting they will "snigger at (or regard with horror) the so-called enlightened views which we pride ourselves as possessing in today's allegedly sophisticated world".

Back then, they used the rough grip of bare hands; today we have the gentle grasp of computer software, but they were just as resourceful, clever and innovative ... maybe more so.

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