For whatever reason, I’ve been pondering the big/huge/massive changes that have occurred in my lifetime. Seems like pretty much conventional wisdom that this is the changiest era ever, and often I think it does feel that way.
On the other hand, not all change is created equal. The Web is a big change. Twitter isn’t. Etc. Sometimes it’s hard to keep clear the difference, there’s so much hype about every new new thing these days.
So, as an exercise, I considered the last 25 years. I was around, and relatively aware, in 1982. What are the things that have happened since then that were really, truly, before-and-after, big? The stuff that hardly anybody in 1982 could have seen coming? The things that would really surprise and be outside the imagination of my 1982 self?
I settled on these (in no particular order):
- The World Wide Web. (Is it missing something to just make this a single entry, lumping everything from Google to Facebook to blogs to … everything else into one entry? How big a deal is any single Web-enabled development? And should email be part of this, or separate?)
- The end of the Cold War/collapse of Communism.
- Hip hop (technically existed prior to 1982 but became a giant cultural force after)
- Mobile communications. I’m not sure if this one counts or not. Probably though, right?
- September 11 / “war on terror”
Okay. That’s some stuff, some big & changy stuff. But what about the 25 years prior to that? What could you show to a citizen of 1956 from the vantage point of 1981, that would seem like Big Changes? What about earlier periods?
I decided to make some tentative lists of big changes. I stuck with things that had some sort of public dimension, in the sense that their impact was obvious, not subtle. So for instance, I wouldn’t include something like air conditioning, which I’m sure somebody could make the case has massively changed the way we live etc., but which doesn’t have that sort of public-culture dimension that I’m interested in.
- Rock music (again, it existed in 1956, but think of the Beatles and Woodstock etc. — it’s a lot)
- The assassinations and riots of the 1960s
- The sexual revolution
- Civil Rights
- Oil shocks/gas rationing etc. of the 1970s (I’m on the fence about this one)
Okay, I kept going. How about 1930 to 1955?
- The Depression
- The Holocaust
- The atomic bomb
And finally: 1904 to 1929
- World War I
- The car
- The airplane
- The movies
So that’s my tentative list at the moment. In some ways I’m now not sure if the most intense 25-year period of change through might have actually been the 1930 to 1955 stretch. The examples there are all pretty massive. Think of a person from 1930 looking at the world of 1955. Isn’t the difference there a lot bigger than 1982 to 2007? Maybe, maybe not.
I’m sure I’m leaving stuff out, and maybe in some cases my picks don’t make sense. This isn’t an intensely researched project, just something I’ve been pondering.