Friday, July 10, 2020

The Pace of Technology

It dawns on me that, in the 80s, when 1950s nostalgia was the rage, I watched shows like MASH and Happy Days, both set in the 50s, without once contemplating any tech anachronisms.

In fact, I never fully realized MASH was a period piece. An era three decades prior was completely relatable. People lived the same life, with the difference being mostly stylistic - clothes, haircuts, and music. Not once, while watching either show - or while watching movies shot contemporaneously - did I ever ask "How did people live like that?"

By contrast, now I watch movies and shows set or shot thirty years back, and it's like a different civilization. No cell phones, computers, or Internet. Long distance calls were an exorbitant luxury, we frequently got lost while driving, and resorted to physical libraries to ferret out nuggets of information. Big lumbering leaded-gas-fume-belching cars stalled a lot, and heart attacks were the scariest prospect in an age without coronary stents. 70 year olds were decrepit, and one homogenous pop culture smothered the landscape, hypnotizing most while alienating misfits with no means of escape. Everyone was drunk-driving and smoking their way through lives where their possessions and surroundings were designed solely for conformist appearance, never for comfort or efficiency, making relaxation (e.g. reclining on ungenerous sofas with our big greasy sideburns, polyester shirts, and smoldering piles of cancerous cigarette butts) look squalid.

Watching period pieces from the 80s, I can't take my eyes off the differences, and am frequently jarred by production anachronisms, which seem inevitable. We're too different now for emulation to be seamless (exception: the HBO series “The Deuce,” which even smelled like 1970s New York).

It's hard to zoom out one's framing far enough for a clear view of the pace of change while standing squarely inside the whirlwind. But there are hints. Remembering how easily relatable the 50s felt in the 80s, compared to how remote and barbaric the 80s feel today, shows how wild the acceleration has been.

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