Times change

19 Nov

Not even 25 years had passed since World War II when I was born. A remarkably short period of time, considering that I would place 1945 and 1969 in different historical eras. The sense of a long time isn’t captured by just the number of years. It’s the changes brought by those years that lets us feel the time.

It’s an interesting exercise to compare to the change over the last 25 years, since 1987. When I was a child, 1987 was the shining future, and there’s a part of me that still hasn’t let go of that image. But from today’s perspective, 1987 doesn’t seem much different from 1969. Until recently, both of these years could even feel like the same historical era as the present. But that has changed.

On the surface, the change from 1987 to the present may look like just more of the same technological development that made 1945 into 1969, even disappointingly little of it. But the important changes are in our mental perception of the world, which is also true when comparing 1945 to 1969. I think it’s reasonable to say that we have, at long last, entered a new historical era.

The most critical change is not the end of the Cold War (which seemed significant at the time) or any other of the shifts in world politics. It’s how we’ve adopted digital communication and, as an effect of that, that we no longer live in just physical euclidian space. Life in Scandinavia, just to take one example, felt distinctly provincial in 1987. We were a considerable distance into nowhere. Now, we are living in a fully integrated part of everywhere.

I would much rather live in this era, with its boundless exchange of information and ideas (and even, to a large extent, commodities), than any other that I know of. But still, I have to admit that if a science fiction writer in 1987 had projected the future that we are living in, it would have had to be perceived as a rather bleak vision. More dystopian than utopian.

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