One of the benefits of being a senior citizen is to have an appreciation, a sense of astonishment. A recognition of our enormous privilege of instant, retrievable, information, communication, reading and writing that we now enjoy. We have immediacy and availability; having all of the information and arts, in our pockets wherever we may go. Compare what one had to do 50 years ago, 500 years ago and 5000 years ago. (1)
Allow me to color today’s views through the lens of myself as a youth, I think people may not only lack this appreciation, but do not really want to hear about what is was like before now. I know I did not. My father’s stories of what life was like, in his youth, always made my eyes roll. I even mocked his “five miles walking on a dirt road to school stories – up hill both ways”. But, I now realize that everyday items of my formative years were a new and remarkable phenomenon. For a family of his youth: indoor toilets, electric home lighting, cars, telephones, cameras, a heating source in each room of one’s house and motion pictures were amazing innovations but felt common to me.
Growing up before jet airliner travel, to say nothing of man in space and on the moon, I have an idea of what it is like to experience life before a thing is known; and then to witness its deployment. An iconic example: life before the planned “Man-on-the-Moon” and now. There was a mystery that is no longer a mystery.
For the first half of the Twentieth Century, before the invention of the transistor and the printed circuits, radios (and TV) required vacuum tubes, copper wiring, external antenna and bulky batteries. My boyhood friend and I did amateur radio. One built the radio on a platform with vacuum tube sockets, which had to be connected with copper wire with the connections hand soldered along with rheostats, condensers, and resistors. The product was movable but hardly portable. Families had their living-room chairs sitting around their radios to listen to Bob Hope, Jack Benny or The President. Telephones were fixed, landline and shared.
The transistor was invented in 1947 (I was 13) followed by printed circuit boards and minuturation of electronics. (2) Although this would later contribute to an amazing technological explosion of new capabilities, first it fed a cultural revolution for young people. By the nineteen sixties, transistor radios were pocket-sized, weighed only a few ounces and were so inexpensive that almost anyone could own one and take it anywhere. Kids could have their own music anywhere and, with earphones, entirely privately. Billions were manufactured and sold. Banks and insurance companies gave them away with promotions.
I doubt that many people think about having a radio in their pocket (now a smartphone). To to have lived before we even knew to .want to have knowledge of them and then have it in your pocket, was to witness a miracle.
It has occurred to me that my daily life is crammed full with resources that required new discoveries of science and technical development by young people. These things do not rain down mysteriously from the heavens! These are new, never-before-known, intellectual achievements of the evolving Homo sapiens! This revolution is happening In front of our very eyes while we watch.
My point is: unless one has experienced the “before”, one does not appreciate how the new resource manifests the intellectual evolution that these things represent.
Anthropologists believe that the human mind has been developing for at least 50,000 years. Recorded history covers the most recent ten percent (say from 3000 BCE). (1)
The last one percent is the last five hundred years. People were living in 1500 CE, were mostly illiterate. Only a few individuals traveled far from their birthplace, and they expected infant mortality rates to be fifty per cent. The average life expectancy was about a third of our present standards. What few books there were had to be hand copied and were not available to the layman, who could not have read it if he had one.
So, in our lifetime, the last one-tenth of one percent of the history of the human mind, we have never-before-seen wonders. In half a century, we have gone from newspapers printed centrally on paper to electronic news on your smartphones, in the pockets of billions of people around the world. Everyone has an on-line real-time news, in video and color, with search engines and music videos, FaceTime and FaceBook, tweets, e-mail and text messaging. Take a selfie in front of The Pyramids and zap it to your mother in Little Rock! Phone calls with call-waiting, in your pocket! Think about it! Can you, bloody, believe that! Our human minds invented and made this in my lifetime, the most recent one-tenth of one percent of the history of the human mind. Wake up people! Relish the evolving human mind!
Revised October 2, 2015
Charles Clanton Rogers, AB, MD, FACR Emeritus Professor, GWU
Please feel free to Reblog
(1) Harari, Yuval, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, HarperCollins, 2015
(2) Isaacson, Walter, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, Simon and Schuster 2014