Back in My Day

8 07 2008

I was having a conversation with someone today, and a mysterious thought occured to me: My generation is currently living a social transformation very similar to the one that happened back in the early 20th century.

The 1900’s in America and the World were just starting to industrialize. But, modern society as we know it today didn’t happen until there was wide spread use of automobiles. Indeed, many historians will go on and on about the days before cars (the horse and buggy days) and the days with cars (urban sprawl days, present day). They will mention the huge societal transformation from quiet rural towns and small communities to huge megalopolis’s.

The people born in the late 1890s saw the whole world change in their lifetimes. They saw cars evolve from their very beginnings, to the affordability of the Ford model-T to the luxury liners. They also witnessed their way of life change. No longer was it fashionable to walk to the local store to get your groceries. If you had a car, you were high class. Hence the drive-in movie phenomenon of the 1950’s. In all, it was a huge shift.

Fast forward to the end of the 20th century, and cars are an all too common family item. But, a couple of new revolutionary devices made their ways to the mainstream culture due perhaps to their sheer utility. The Internet and Cell phones have become the two catalysts of our generation.

While it was born in the middle of the century, the Internet has grown into the vital tool for everyday communication and entertainment. In fact, the Internet is a vital component of many businesses. It is also a mainstay in or household. When we first moved in, the cable guy happened to be outside hooking things up. He said that he could have TV up by the end of the day. I quickly thanked him, but asked if we could have the Internet turned on instead. I have not subscribed to cable TV since then. Not a day goes by that I don’t use the Internet. These days, if it’s not on the Internet, I just don’t need it. All the information I need to get along with my daily activities is provided somewhere online. Electronics, check. Money, check. Clothes, check. Food, check. Books, check. Education, check. Friends, check. News, check. Everything is there. This is a huge shift from my own childhood when computers were luxury toys that were expensive and slow. My how fast times change.

The days before cell phones were difficult. If we were in trouble in the middle of an interstate highway between major cities, we were left to the mercy of the passersby to stop and lend a hand. If we didn’t make carefully laid out instructions to the late night rendezvous, we would never meet. Now, the electronic leash keeps us in touch with our friends, or sends us messages when we have events due on our online calendars. Sometimes, we even talk on our cell phones. Indeed the days before cell phones were nasty. I find it hard to believe that kids nowadays may grow up without ever knowing what a landline is, just as I never grew up with a rotary dial in any house but my grandmother’s.

All this makes me wonder: is this sort of social transformation on some sort of cycle? If so, what is it? At first glance, it seems that it’s comes about once a century. If that is the case, I can only wonder what awaits my children’s children when they grow up. What sort of major change in lifestyle will occur that I can’t even imagine?

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