Thursday, August 05, 2010

back in my day

"back in my day" I heard my 13-year old daughter say. Really? What day was that? Yesterday? I laughed at first, but then I began to think about the changes she's seen in her life. I think about the changes I've seen in my life. Back in my day, there were no cell phones, no public internet (forget about accessing the internet from a cell phone...crazy), what content was stored was stored on magnetic tape, and 4 to 5 local channels were the norm. Now that much change must surely be distinguishing enough for me to say "back in my day".

Then I think about the generation before mine: limited travel, limited news, one-room schools (dad attended the last one-room gradeschool in Missouri), outhouses, black and white television, etc. And those are just externally-observable differences. The sea of cultural and societal changes besides these are enormous! Desegregation, two-income households, single-parent households, on and on. Now that's a "back in my day". One generation further back is suffrage, prohibition, emancipation...the velocity of change is dizzying. Things have (seemingly) changed so significantly and rapidly over the last few centuries that it's part of our ethos to say "back in my day". But has it always been the case that one generation says to the next "back in my day"? Can you imagine the conversation four or five centuries ago?

"Back in my day, we were hunter gatherers" or "back in my day we were agrarian."
"um...yeah, dad, that's been the case for all the generations in our known history."

Of course, there were innovations and socioeconomic shifts, but did it shift the culture enough for the average man for there to be a "back in my day"? Maybe it's part of the human condition, but is it possible that it's a more recent inflamed condition? Maybe it's aggravated by technological change because technology does change the way we communicate. The renaissance (encyclopedic knowledge), the industrial revolution (mechanized capacity), the information age (universal access), etc. definitely increased the velocity of change as well as common awareness of it. Perhaps it's this common awareness that itself contributes to rate increase. Regardless, I wonder if it has become more of a built-in mechanism--and a not necessarily positive one at that. I wonder if we have such an expectation of change that we yield too much of our life to it. "Things have got to change." Really? Upon what is that assertion based? "Things were better back when..." Really? Or is it the assumption that things have fundamentally changed that causes us to romanticize the past and bail on the present? But has anything important really changed? Does being able to track trivialities on social media really change the core nature of human relationships? Or have we allowed the velocity of change to deceive us into focusing on non-core things? We expect change. We pine for change. Many are junkies of vain and pointless change: television, facebook, twitter, etc. Many are just waiting for the right ________ to come along. I have the feeling that we're listening to the music without considering our course. It's change for change's sake. Maybe we're blaming the changes rather than embracing them as tools and opportunities (escapism). Maybe we're (perhaps worse) putting our hope in change rather than in the unchanging One (nonconstructive optimism). Maybe (perhaps even worse yet) we're looking at "change" as an improvement in our basic human condition and holding that as some sort of absolute good.

Are we holding our breath for "change"?

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