Monday, May 01, 2006

The Future Ain't What It Used To Be

New techologies, whole new realms of science, change in our lifetime keeps coming faster and faster. Right?

Donald Pittenger at 2 Blowhards says "not so fast":

I'll concede that in certain areas such as biology and medicine, changes over the past few decades have been more profound than at any time in history. And true, computers have made important changes in details of our daily lives.

But in those daily life terms, the greatest changes happened quite a while ago.

He cites his grandparents (as do a number of the commenters) as examples of the phenomenal pace of change in the last century or so. My grandmother was born a couple of weeks before the Wright Brothers flew. I remember sitting on the living room couch with her and watching the first pictures come across the TV screen from the Mariner landing on Mars. How's that for change?

Donald, in his contrarian essay, says we've seen better:

Let me play the round-numbers game and propose a century as our measurement unit. Not a calendar century, but a 100-year period. I propose 1825-1925 as the century where everyday life changed the most.

There's a certain truth to that. There was a foundational shift in what it meant to be a human being in Western nations in those years. Even the rich and famous in 1825 died of diseases easily preventable or curable now. The poor, in cities or crofts, lived in abject squalor, and there were actual famines in Europe. Whereas the poor among us now almost always have a refrigerator and a television (I don't say that relieves the weight of their poverty, but it does say something about the level of our technology), and among their woes is a tendency to obesity.

The full range of what life, aided by technology, could be was appreciated and began to be realized in that crucial age 1815-30. Even the computer itself had been essentially worked out, in theory, by Charles Babbage and Lord Byron's daughter, but it took more than a century for the technology to catch up to the thought.

Anyway, it's an interesting read.

[Hat tip: Chicagoboyz]

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