I’m going off subject for this post. Today, June 28 2018 would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday. She died of a stroke in 2015 at the age of 97. Fortunately for our family, she was very sharp mentally right up until her stroke. She would often talk about the things she saw and experienced in her lifetime. Grandma Foster could just as easily recall events from her teenage years during the Great Depression as she could events that happened within the last week. In some ways, she was like having a local historian in our family.
Today I would like to talk about some of the changes that occurred since my grandmother’s birth that early summer day in 1918. One hundred years isn’t really a long time in terms of our recorded civilizations, let alone on the time frame of the cosmos. But we have seen many changes. And I would like to mention some of these.
In 1918, when my Grandma Foster was born, World War I was still going on. The Spanish Flu Pandemic was at it’s hight. The old Ottoman Empire was still in existence. The Russian Revolution was going on. China was still a very poor country. India was still a possession of the British Empire. Much of Africa was divided into European colonies. Automobiles had been available to the working and middle classes for only a handful of years. Industrial magnates like John Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla, etc. were still alive. It was mostly urban areas in America and Europe that had electricity. Coal and steam powered almost all industrial processes.
Technologies that my Grandma Foster saw rise during her lifetime included regular radio broadcasts, anti biotic medications, hybrid crops, nitrogen based chemical fertilizers, radar, reliable rockets, nuclear weapons and energy, jet propulsion, reliable airline travel, television, computers, more fuel efficient automobiles, plastics, reliable contraceptive pills, super highway systems, easily available credit cards, lasers, the beginnings of space exploration, organ transplants, test tube children, cellular phones, active searches for alien intelligences beyond our solar system, high speed railways (granted not so much in America as in Europe and East Asia), the internet, near free information via wikipedia, near free self broadcasting via youtube and podcasting, social media, the beginnings of inexpensive renewable power, the rise of automated drone technology, the rise of robotics, the human genome project, the beginnings of affordable electric automobiles, the discovery of anti matter, and the early research into fusion power, genetic engineering, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence.
Cultural changes my Grandma Foster saw witness to involved women’s suffrage, the beginning and end of Prohibition, the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Communist Russia, World War II, the decline of children in the work force, the increase of women in the work force, the assassination of Gandhi, the Civil Rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s, the rise of rock and roll music, the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Pearl Harbor, the assassination of John Kennedy, the turmoil of the 1960s, the rise of cable and satellite television, the first people on the moon, the fears of nuclear war and it’s after effects, the popularization of hip hop music and urban culture, the launch of space probes to almost all of our solar system, the Hubble Telescope, the popularization of science fiction and futurism, the rise of awareness of industrial pollution and the beginnings of the efforts to undo the effects thereof, the AIDS epidemic, the end of colonialization, the rise of China as an industrial and scientific power, the rise of the United Nations and globalization, the beginnings of the decline of nationalist furvor that was the norm for most of civilization, the rise of the European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the War on Terrorism, the first black man to be U.S. president, the first women Supreme Court justices, the beginnings of the declines in the marganializations of religious, sexual, cultural, etc. minorities, the beginnings of plans to colonize space, the realizations of the potential benefits and drawbacks of artificial intelligence, and the rise of better treatment for the disabled, mentally ill, and pretty much anyone who didn’t conform to the average norm.
All of this I mentioned was just in the lifetime of someone I was blood relation to. As you could see, the rate of changes only accelerated as time went forward. I’m sure there are changes I forgot to mention. My grandmother was old enough to remember people who were Civil War veterans and probably met people who were born into slavery or at least their children. I write all of this to state that yes, the world changes over time. People change over time, and not just because older generations die off and younger ones take their places. I think of some of the changes I’ve seen just in my 38 years living as a human. I really don’t recognize much of what I saw in the mid 1980s now and some of the attitudes and practices of even my childhood has me wondering “what were we thinking” and even “what was I thinking.” Change is constant. Change is inevitable even if not predictable or even in coming. Or as one science fiction writer put “The future is already here. It just isn’t evenly distributed.”