More badinage: looking backwards

April 16, 2021 • 10:00 am

Once again I find little in the news to write about, but here’s a thought I had.

I don’t eat many treats, but sometimes I keep a half gallon (well, it’s not a half gallon any more) of ice cream in the freezer. The way I avoid eating too much is to eat directly out of the carton with a spoon rather than heaping the stuff in a bowl. That way I can restrict myself to, say, five big spoons of ice cream (not enough, really), and the carton lasts a lot longer than when I was younger and would polish it off in two or three goes. (Ice cream used to come in half gallons, but they sneakily reduced the size to 1.5 quarts.)

But this is prelude: last night I was eating some Dreyer’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream (yes, I do like that flavor), and I thought, “When I was a kid, I couldn’t have imagined eating ice cream that contained chunks of raw cookie dough.” And that got me thinking about what things we take for granted today that we couldn’t have imagined when we were, say, ten or twelve. Now when I was that age, it was the late Fifties and early Sixties—the Pleistocene. Those were the days of rotary phones, of pay phones, of 25 cent haircuts, 5 cent Hershey Bars, 25-cent movies, and nickel Cokes.  So here are a few things I couldn’t have imagined back then:

The most obvious is the Internet and the devices it created. If you had told me that people would be walking around with portable phones that could fit in your pocket, and would put you in touch not just with your friends, but with the whole world, your pulse, the stock market, the weather, and so on, I would have been amazed. If you’d told me that people would be glued to these devices for hours a day, I would have probably been contemptuous. And my Apple 30″ desktop computer is far more powerful than early IBM machines that used to fill entire rooms.

And there’s email, of course. We now take this for granted, but when we used to write to people, we actually scrawled or typed on pieces of paper and put them in envelopes with a stamp. In some ways I miss that—I haven’t written a real letter in years, and used to turn out multi-paged typed letters to my friends, which took some thought—but it’s transformed everyone’s lives. If you’re a scientist, you can send manuscripts by email and get them evaluated in a matter of days (if the reviewers are prompt). The whole pace of science, not to mention human interaction, has been speeded up: you can get comments on your thoughts from friends instantly.

Word processing is a real boon. I used to have to retype multiple versions of articles or papers on an IBM Selectric, and it was clumsy and laborious. Editing was hard–you had to do it by hand. Now you can move chunks of texts around with a keystroke, and, for me at least, it’s made editing and improving writing much easier.

Finally, about my own life. Had you told me back then that I’d be a scientist, and that becoming one would have required surmounting numerous obstacles that in retrospect seem insuperable, I would have laughed and said, “Why would anybody want to work that hard?” But I didn’t know how much I’d enjoy it, and that for a scientist work is not a distinct part of one’s life—it is part of one’s persona. Yes, I had a lot of dateless weekends in college, but in the end it was worth it. Remind me to tell you a story some day of what I did on my last day of college when I realized that all the work for my degree was done.

This is all in the way of prompting two questions for readers:

1.) What features of the world exist now that you couldn’t have possibly imagined as a kid? (And do note whether you like them.)

2.) What about your life now would have seemed unimaginable when you were a kid?

143 thoughts on “More badinage: looking backwards

  1. I was born in 1926. Ford had not yet firmed up the Model T. People did not fly in airplanes. No radio or television. I remember my uncle saw the first tv at the World’s Fair in 1940. No frozen food.

  2. As I am almost 86, almost everything would have been unimaginable when I was a kid. But I think the most remarkable, to me, is space travel. What a blast! First the moon, and then Mars – Wow. When I was in the sixth grade I bragged that I would go to the moon, never dreaming that it could actually happen.
    The ease of making copies, too, is wondrous to me. I had to type carbon copies of my Master’s thesis (1965), but could use Xerox by the time my dissertation was complete (1974). Whew!
    Also, all of my encyclopedias are gathering dust, as I can find most anything on my Imac. What a time to be alive.!

    1. My parents were born in 1900 (father) and 1903 (mother). They died in 1975 (mother) and 1978 (father). Though they saw many advances during their lifetimes (cars, for example, and telephones), I think what would impress them most if they came back in 2021 would be the cellphone. I myself am most impressed by the computer, but I think they would ignore that and vote for the cellphone.
      dr,bill.bradnan@gmail.com

  3. 1. I’m 65, and aside from the advances Jerry mentioned, I can think of home entertainment. When I was a kid and wanted to watch something that was opposite “Gunsmoke,” I was just screwed. I remember musing with some buddies, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a thing where you could just watch movies on your TV” I remember the first TV we got, too. The neighbors came over to witness the installation, siting attaching the Rota-Tenna controls. Then came the VCR and video stores, DVDs, etc.
    2. I’m the first one in my family to get a college degree. Growing up, the only adults I knew with college degrees were the doctors, lawyers and some of the teachers. Now, everyone I’m related to has at least a bachelor’s. And none are doctors or lawyers. I was innocent of the gamut of higher education, I guess.

  4. The fear of eating raw cookie dough was about it containing raw eggs, if I remember correctly. Eggs back then were occasionally infected with salmonella. Like trichinosis from pork, it is no longer a thing. Not that there’s likely any raw eggs in the “cookie dough” in your ice cream. I also enjoy that flavor.

    I’m surprised you eat ice cream from the carton in order to eat less per sitting. Most people seem to come to the opposite conclusion. Put some in a small bowl in order to set a limit. If you eat directly from the carton, there’s no portion control unless you count your spoonfuls. You never see your portion all at once and so are more likely to splurge.

    The internet also has warnings about contaminating the ice cream carton with bacteria using the spoon that’s been in your mouth. That wouldn’t really bother me but it probably would bother others in the same household.

    As far as your questions are concerned, I am surprised at the extent to which private space travel is taking off. When I was growing up, it was always assumed that only the government had the resources and that governments would not want private companies sending things into space where they might return to fall on people’s heads. I’m glad we got past those things.

    I’m less surprised at our powerful computers and cell phones as I’ve been involved with computers since the early 1970s. It was always the dream. We didn’t know the details of how or when but we knew it would happen sooner or later. These things have been featured in numerous science fiction stories, each of which contained a take on what life would be like.

    1. I’d be careful about salmonella. I know they clean eggs; but there is still a small chance of transfer from handling, packaging, etc. Of course the egg itself is sterile until you break it.

      Last I heard USDA still says about 30% of all poultry sold in the USA has live salmonella bacteria in/on it. I handle poultry with great (perhaps obsessive) care. I’ve had some really bad GI infections (Asia and Africa): I never want to experience that ever again.

      1. Always a chance with raw eggs but we can still get infected from lettuce, green onions, so I don’t worry too much about it. The chance is small. That said, I’ve suffered from some nasty stomach bugs but I’ve never known exactly how I got them. I don’t eat raw eggs very often anyway.

  5. I love the ability to do both of these things:

    I’d never have imagined that I’d be able to dig up my dad and brother’s 8mm and Super 8 films, and been able to restore them digitally. And not only restore them, but de-speckle, stabilize, color correct, and edit them with free video editing software! And finally, post them to YouTube and send links to friends and family for them to enjoy at their leisure.

    I also never imagined I’d have access to tools and software to allow me to model my house in 3D so my wife and I could play with kitchen remodel what-if scenarios. Then don a virtual reality headset to walk around in our new kitchen before we had even started the real project.

  6. I would agree that computer technology and its offshoots are things that few people imagined 50 years ago. But, what strikes me is all the things that were imagined at that time that didn’t come to pass. In particular, it was imagined that most diseases would be cured, the average lifespan would be greatly expanded, people would travel routinely by flying cars, and Mars would be colonized. Up to at least the start of the pandemic, the rhythm of life has changed little over the last half century. People got up in the morning, commuted to work (by rail or car), worked in an office for eight or nine hours, commuted home, ate dinner, watched a little television, went to sleep and then repeated the same routine the next weekday. Computer technology has made work and entertainment easier, but has not substantially changed how life is lived, in my opinion. So, I guess that most of my childhood fantasies about life in the future were greatly exaggerated. In other words, progress has not progressed as fast as I had hoped.

    1. The flying car thing always seemed unlikely to me but perhaps it was growing up with LA freeway traffic. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like if only 10% of them had planes instead of cars. What a mess!

      1. As with supersonic commercial aviation, flying cars will not become a thing. Economics and the the dangers of high-energy (even higher energy than autos/buses/trucks) will ensure that.

        We could easily “do” flying cars now. That fact the we haven’t, more or less at all, is telling.

        Those that want to move rapidly hire helicopters and small planes. Which are much, much less safe than commercial aviation (though they may be more comparable to automobiles).

        1. I can imagine flying cars being “a thing” only as a fully automated drone system. Not under human driver control. For short haul trips to the airport or back. (And by “imagine” I don’t mean “expect to see”.)

          1. In fact it already exists. In Rwanda a drone system, Zipline, is used to deliver needed medical supplies, such as blood, to rural hospitals. Highly impressive.

        2. There are several new companies that are creating flying cars or very small airplanes, or at least close to the concept. No way of knowing whether they will be approved to fly or be successful. Since automated cars and drones have become a thing much more quickly than I would have expected, perhaps we will have flying cars in a few years.

  7. Very interesting to think about. the digital age was unknown when I was growing up. I am the same age as you, 71 so the 50s and 60s were long ago. The other day I had a guy come and do some maintenance on my sprinkler system. He figured it all out and sent me an email with the invoice
    before he pulled out of the driveway. That part I like.

    Flying by airline today you can have. Back in the 60s and 70s flying commercially was almost fun. There is no fun anymore. As much as I don’t like phones I cannot say too much bad about them. They are here to stay.

    Autos are much better today but also much more expensive. You can no longer work on them yourself but then you don’t really need to.

    I hated email when I was still working because it created a whole lot more work. In the old paper days we had clerk typist to do all the typing and we wrote by hand. No more clerk typist, now we do it all ourselves on the comuputer. Email is good when you are retired but I hated it when I worked.

    1. “Flying by airline today you can have. Back in the 60s and 70s flying commercially was almost fun. There is no fun anymore.”

      But in relative terms, it was far more expensive and hence limited to far fewer people.

      I agree that airports are unpleasant and long flights tiring. But I much prefer them to the alternatives!

      1. So if I can get a cheap flight but get treated like shit that is a better deal. Look, Most of my flying was on the business, I did not pay for it, so cost was not really important. It was how you flew and were served that mattered, and it really mattered on those long overseas flights. When you took those upgraded Pan AM flights, there was nothing like it.

        1. I detest business travel. I have avoided it like the plague.

          I don’t perceive my treatment flying economy to be “like shit”. I fly every year (well, excepting 2020), including many transatlantic trips and even some transpacific. I’m also 6′-5″ tall, so I take a backseat to few in terms of flying discomfort.

          All-in-all, it beats the bejesus out of the alternatives.

          First class is always available, for a price.

          I used to work for an airline, so I’ve flown first class a fair bit. Yes, very nice. And, as noted, always available for a price.

          1. I did not say first class but you just keep making stuff up. Did you in fact fly overseas during the 70s. If you are now flying economy class on overseas flights, good luck to you.

    2. I recall the sight of a jet aircraft vapour trail was rare in the 60s & I would look up to see it. The farm we lived by still used a reaper/binder.

      Winter wheat changed agriculture & damaged wildlife….

      1. Dom, just about all airlines and military planes were jets in the 60s. By the late 60s I was working on some. The farm still using a reaper/binder, now that was getting a bit past it’s time. Most farmers and gone to Combines in the later 50s and certainly the 60s.

        1. There were not many flying over the middle of Norfolk! Yes, the reaper/binder was in its last year – that was circa 1967.

      2. Winter wheat, pasture improvement (I contemplated quote marks) and silage production. The big change since my childhood in the sixties and seventies is undoubtedly the bleeding away of wildlife from much of the countryside. We certainly haven’t lost all of our wildlife by any means and there are encouraging signs of changing attitudes but we face a huge task of halting and reversing the decline of formerly widespread and common species.

  8. When I was a kid I never imagined that the variety of foods (and restaurants) would be as expansive as it is now that I’m older. As a child the most exotic foods were pizza and chop suey. And pizza was considered spicy. I had never heard of sushi, much less imagining that I would someday raise my own children to love it.

    And all things digital, of course.

    1. I was thinking something similar. The sheer variety, and the ability to buy fruits out of season.

      Specifically, eating raw fish would have been a stomach turner when I was young – fish was battered and fried, served with chips and a pickled egg – there was no other way to eat it.

          1. As a kid, any meeting involving my extended family rapidly became an unintentional re-enactment of that sketch… But then Dad did leave school at 14 to work at the local coal mine, where he ended up breaking several ribs, so I guess I’m in no position to mock the “we ‘ad it tough” narrative.

        1. My Geordie wife would say that I was raised as a posh southern git who never knew the hardship of not having a pickled egg 🙂

    2. With you on both of those! Asparagus all winter long! Real “ethnic” food restaurants — really good ones — in Minnesota. Whodathunkit?

    3. I remember my first experience eating sushi in Chicago in the early 1980’s. There were just a handful of sushi restaurants then (Chicago = 1000 miles from any coast). We considered it quite exotic and I loved it. I had to work hard, though, to appear an experienced sushi consumer, to impress the young woman I was with.

  9. The internet is the most obvious one. The amount of information available at the tip of one’s fingers is amazing. As for myself, I work in the software industry, something that, if it existed when I was in school, I was completely unaware of.

  10. Mobile phones were not unimaginable to me as a kid. They had something very similar on Star Trek. Neither were awesomely powerful computers, even portable ones because they had them also in Star Trek and Blake’s Seven.

    What would have been unimaginable would have been watching TV programmes and films on a computer or a phone. Also, it’s unimaginable to me now that anybody could eat a few spoonfuls of ice cream from a tub without going on to finish it off.

    Another thing that would have been unimaginable is having to explain to a thirteen year old boy how a telephone dial worked (that was me to my nephew seven years ago).

    1. Re. mobile phones, I had a conversation about that with my Dad (born 1936) a few years ago. I was doing something on my iPad (I was born in 1980, btw) and Dad made some kind of disparaging remark about kids and their toys and who could have imagined we’d have things like that someday!

      Me: You imagined it! They had things like this on Star Trek! In the SIXTIES.

    2. And before Star Trek there was Maxwell Smart and his shoe phone, so not entirely unimaginable. Still, having grown up when a toll call was a big deal, I note that my wife can routinely talk to and see her grandchildren 10,000 km away on her mobile or tablet. Her mobile has also replaced her watch, calendar, list of contacts, camera, calculator, fax and is sometimes used instead of a map book.

      When we last bought a second-hand car from a dealer, his office was basically a mobile, and a plug in attachment about the size of a match box, which turned it into an eft-pos terminal. (Ahh, eft-pos – ten dollars in my wallet now lasts a month.) When we sold our 20-year-old Toyota which was still running reliably after 290,000 km (an impossibility in my youth) the new buyer transferred ownership while standing in our driveway.

  11. The fact that I can listen to almost any song I can think of, or check its lyrics, or watch a guitar video lesson about how to play it, etc. is probably the thing that my teenage self – who had to save up the cash for a new LP, take a bus or train to the record shop, and then decide which one to get – would be most astonished by. The idea that the fictional device in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would effectively exist in his lifetime, and he would have the ability to find out anything on a handheld screen, would have blown his tiny mind, too!

  12. 1. Climate change (possibly just a failure of imagination on my part as a kid in the 70s).

    2. I could not have imagined how much harder it would be for me and for my kids to do as well economically as my working-class boomer parents did in the 50s and 60s. The economic arc of western countries was already bending downward in the 70s, but I couldn’t see or imagine it. Back then I thought everyone would forever do better than their parents, and parents could always look forward to their children getting ahead. Reading Piketty helped me understand why that’s not the case.

    1. I remember the potential for climate change resulting from the greenhouse effect due to CO2 being taught in high school in the mid-70s. As I recall the CO2 level had hit 340ppm at the time, from a pre-industrial level of around 280 if memory serves. As of 2019 the level was 410ppm and rising fast. We have dumped more carbon into the atmosphere since 1980 than in all of human history before then – scary

  13. To answer the 2nd question, I’d say my marriage to another man. I’m “only” 46, but it was inconceivable to me as a kid that same-sex marriage would be reality in my lifetime.

    1. The rapidity of the acceptance of same sex marriage in the US is stunning. In less than three decades, SCOTUS went from upholding the constitutionality of criminal laws proscribing homosexual sodomy, in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), to holding that the constitution requires that same-sex couples be allowed to marry, in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).

      I don’t think anyone in the pre-Stonewall US of A could have imagined that.

    2. I’d like to enter an applause emoji here.

      Yes, indeed. Me neither (as a het/cis/white/middle-aged/UMC male engineer).

      I am SO glad you were able to marry. So far, we’ve been to two weddings of pairs of men. Aside from my own wedding, they were, without doubt, the most moving and the most fun weddings I’ve ever been to!

      Treating gay people (I include men and women in that term) equally is just so damned obvious to me, and always was (I’m almost 60). I turns out that my best friend in middle school (from my neighborhood) was gay. So were several friends from my first high school job. I was so naive I never knew it. (It’s obvious in retrospect and with life experience.)

      1. It is hard to understand why society ever felt (and unfortunately some – too many – still do) so threatened by homosexuality.

        1. Probably two aspects. One, usually no children, so they benefit from society without contributing, at least in this sense. Two, the usual hang-ups about sex: since no pregnancies result, they are clearly doing it just for fun.

    3. I too never imagined that would happen for gays, although I’ve always supported their cause.

      I also never thought that marijuana would be legalized nor clinics opened for clean syringe exchanges and even free drugs. I’ve never used any of these but I was pleasantly surprised how society largely has become more compassionate about addiction.

  14. I started photography at an early age and spent much too much time developing B&W film and then exposing, printing and developing really mediocre snap shots in a small, dark humid, unpleasant basement room. Of course, color was out of the question. Now, 50 years later I shoot with elaborate, complex digital cameras that can do things that I couldn’t ever conceived of before and manage aesthetic and technical editing that, to my earlier eyes, would seem close to magic.

    I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, going to Boston once a year excursion and the furthest from home I’d ever been was when I was 20 and going to grad school in Philadelphia.
    Now I’ve been to 45 countries, live in California and am writing this post on an iPad through a hot spot on my phone while traveling through New Mexico. I am looking forward to seeing the NASA copter fly on Mars and, perhaps, the only things that would surprise me are time travel or a visit from beings from another planet.

  15. Just to be a bit different, I’m going with GPS. The idea that you can pinpoint your location pretty much at will would have been mind boggling to 1960s li’l old me. Plus all the myriad offshoots of GPS that I use in my civil engineering work every day. The idea that a piece of excavating equipment can be programmed to shape the earth based on a 3D model in its computer brain blows me away.

    As for the other, I have to stick with the cell phone. The number of times I could have used one in my youth…

    1. I concur, even google maps is already what was kinda unimaginable, let alone GPS.
      There is no doubt that the whole informatics thing is what changed most , I mean a pocket cellphone with more memory than a room occupying mainframe in the fifties or even sixties? And at my age the phosphodiestrease 5 inhibitors cannot be underestimated (but as a youngster who would care about unimaginable ED?). Also the birth control medication for females got much safer. Phaco-emulsification with foldable implant lenses has also improved cataract surgery immensely, not to mention vascular endothelial growth factor inhibitors for macular edema and age related macular degeneration. And the ability to produce a range of vaccines against a new virus within a year or so. those are big changes. CRISPR ? PCR? Is anyone still thinking of that? Superglue?
      Flat screens were also a big change, as is the variety of available foodstuff. (still, in my backward area it is difficult to get sake for my sashimi) .
      Mass flying is, I guess, also quite new. And the fears about the environment got more or less hijacked by global warming. What about microwave ovens? Yes, our world changed a lot.
      Just look at what didn’tchange much. I mean, 40 years ago you couldn’t hear what they were saying over intercom and you still can’t, car batteries were heavy and unwieldy, and they still are (albeit demanding less maintenance). Cars have been refined, but are basically the same petrol drinking stinkers they used to be. Lawn mowers and chainsaws didn’t change much either. I can think of a few more, such as gas canisters and the like, unchanged.

      1. With only a few exceptions, the most popular firearm ammunition hasn’t changed since before WWI (WWI, not WWII). That is durability. Only really good tools and designs last like that.

        .50 BMG was invented around 1900 and adopted around the time of WWI. It’s still the most common heavy MG round in “the West”. That John Browning was a good designer.

        Chainsaws and lawnmowers haven’t changed much because they are very well suited to their use case. I speak to both from a lot of personal experience. Our mower is now a rechargeable battery-powered electric model (and my son pushes it, not me!).

        1. If you think lawnmowers and things like chainsaws have not changed much in the past 40 or 50 years it is only because you either did not use them then or not now. When I had to mow a lot of grass a few years ago I had a Kabota 3060 model with a 6 foot platform. This mower was hydrostatic drive, I assume you know what that is but it is the only thing in lawnmowers. It mowed 6 foot at a time, had a 30 HP diesel. It also has 4 wheel drive and positraction. I am pretty sure none of that was around even 35 years ago. The chainsaws are much lighter, that is the main thing. They also have automatic oiling of the chain. In the old days you had to pump the oil all the time you were cutting.

          1. I was addressing Niclolas’s comment that they haven’t changed. Obviously, especially, motor technology has improved a great deal. And, like cars, current models are: Lighter, more reliable, more fuel efficient, etc. But my last gas-powered lawn mower (until 2018) looked pretty much exactly the same and worked pretty much exactly the same as the 1968 model I pushed around as a kid.

            I own a 1969 Homelite chainsaw and a 2019 Husqvarna chainsaw, so I am well aware of the differences (e.g. chain brakes!) (automatic bar oiling was available in the early 1970s — I remember when our family friend got his first one). But the basic design is still the same, remarkably so. The chains are interchangeable. I vastly prefer the Husqvarna — which is why I spent the money on it — for the reasons noted above.

            The basic design of mowers and chainsaws (“the same petrol drinking stinkers they used to be”) has been quite stable. They are well suited to the use case.

            1. Look, just because you used a push mower for many years does not mean others did not move on. If you just want to stick with comparing push mowers then yes. You are stuck.

            2. Of course there are electric versions of these things (lawn mowers, chainsaws, etc.) that weren’t available way back then. I also suspect the gas versions are way more reliable now.

              1. Electric lawn mowers had this nasty habit of cutting their own cables in the seventies, they still do now. 🙂
                My point is not that lawn mowers, car batteries and chainsaws haven’t changed or improved, they did (intelligibility of intercom didn’t though), but the change has been, like cars, minor refining and tweaking of what was already there. Nothing compared to the huge change of having a combination of a dial phone, a calculator, a film camera, a room occupying mainframe memory, a detailed atlas and worldwide access (and what not) in your pocket now. The latter opened a new universe as it were.

    2. I was not sure what to write here, but GPS really has changed my life personally. When I left the military, I became a navigator of ocean-going ships. This was the1980s, and we had limited and inaccurate electronic navigation systems. We did a full day of celestial observations at sea because that was the primary method of checking our dead reckoning predictions. In coastal waters during poor visibility, it was sometimes pretty tense.
      GPS made things much safer, and lowered the stress level tremendously. We continued to double check GPS with other means, partly because sometimes there would be datum conflicts with the charts ( which means the positions of things are determined by using a slightly different model for the size of the earth. It was not a big deal using navigation methods with miles of expected error. When you are using GPS, an island a mile west of where it is supposed to be is a very big deal.)

      The other thing from those days that seems unimaginable now is the delay in communications. I corresponded with my family by mail, and it was not unusual for letters to take months to arrive on the ship. In an emergency, one could send a telex, but even that was expensive.

      Cell phones are not as big a deal with me. We still don’t have reception on most of the ranch, so my phone is primarily an MP3 player for my car.

      Thinking about it now, I will lastly add digital film storage. I am a huge fan of cinema, and in the early days, my wife (then girlfriend) would record stuff off of TV or later HBO, and mail me boxes of tapes. Later, I would mail spools of DVDs to myself before I went to the ship.
      Now, I keep films on multi-terabyte hard drives, and am able to carry a vast library of HD films with me wherever I go. Even at home, I have a little grey market 4K media player box hooked to the TV, and we plug a thumb drive into it and watch whatever we want.
      Thinking about how much effort and expense we put into shipping boxes of tapes and disks all over the world seems absurd now.

  16. I was born in 1945 and grew up in rural Ohio in the ’50’s and early ’60’s. Ditto to all the comments about how amazing modern technology is. However, the thing that impresses me the most is the extent to which we have systematically and dramatically devastated and destroyed the natural world. I live near where I grew up and the apparent loss of healthy ecosystems is overwhelming and utterly disheartening. Compared to today, the natural world was a paradise 75 years ago. I could list the losses by species and habitat type, but it would take too long, and anyway, I’m sure you get the picture. Worldwide, the evidence is the same. Forget AI, cellphones, space travel, etc., etc. Those are just blips in the saga of evolution. The real story is the relentless human destruction of the basis for life on Earth.

    1. Yes, that also started in the ’60s, at least the realisation of that. I think books like Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” have been very influential, and then you had the MIT’s “Report to the Club of Rome”, and then the WWF, Greenpeace and later books like EO Wilson’s “Biodiversity” and uncountable studies.
      The attention changed from hunting to pollution, to habitat destruction and overpopulation to global warming. But ‘all’ of them are still players.
      I take some heart from the ‘demographic transition’, the fact that since 1984 the population growth rate (the rate of growth, population still growing) has been tumbling world-wide, sometimes vertiginously so.

    2. On a positive note, many species, such as Trumpeter Swans, Bald Eagles, Gray Wolves, Sandhill Cranes, were nearly extinct when I was a youth in the 1960s and 70s. They are now thriving again, absolutely common where I live.

      In addition, Minnesota (aside from the sprawl of the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area) looks little different than it did in the 60s and 70s. I’d say much of the state has more and more different kinds of wildlife than when I was young.

      I never saw a turkey when I was young. Now they are pests. I never saw a swan. Now they nest on our local pond. There are ospreys nesting in every local park around here. (It takes me about 15-20 minutes by road to get to downtown Minneapolis or downtown St. Paul.) When I was young, I never saw a Northern Cardinal, a Bluebird, a Sandhill Crane, a Mink, a Beaver, a Pileated Woodpecker (outside of far northern Minnesota), and Red Foxes were vanishingly rare. All are common now.

      Clearly, habitat destruction has been bad; but it’s not 100% gloom.

      1. You are right that it is not 100% gloom and there are other good examples of species whose fortunes have been turned round as well as the ones you give. Some species are possibly more amenable to responding positively to conservation actions and these successes have to be set alongside the huge insidious losses going on across much of the World. Somehow we have to strike a balance between a fatalism, on the one hand, that says we are going to hell in a hand-cart and there’s buggar all we can do about it, and complacency on the other that assumes things are not so bad and it will all turn out ok. Those sandhill cranes and bald eagles have to inspire us to keep working to maintain as a rich and diverse a fauna and flora as we possibly can!

  17. Those were the days of rotary phones, of pay phones, of 25 cent haircuts …

    According to the old call-and-response musical couplet, it was “shave and a haircut, two bits,” but I’ve always associated that with Depression-era prices. I know by the time I was old enough to shave, the price of poker had gone up.

    I always enjoy getting a nice. close barbershop shave (though I’ve never been 100% comfortable having the pre-shave steaming towel covering my face after seeing the old photograph of the Albert Anastasia hit). For a while after the onset of HIV, barbers quit doing shaves, but they’re back again now, at least at the barbershop I frequent.

  18. As a kid I was like Young Sheldon Cooper without the genius part, but definitely a science nerd before the term was coined. I remember standing in the street with the neighbors waiting for Sputnik to come over. We kids played “tag” while the adults watched the sky and muttered among themselves in hushed tones. I remember Duck and Cover drills for when the inevitable H-bombs rained down on us. The rich folks up the street had a bomb shelter.

    I started reading science fiction in the Fourth Grade. The town librarian finally gave up chasing me out of the Adult Section and just sighed when I checked out Clark, Bradbury, Asimov and others.

    I am not so much surprised as delighted by the advances I’ve seen in my lifetime, although the lack of progress in anti-gravity belts and Warp Drive are thorns in my side.

    As a grad student I worked with a biochem group down the hall on methods of using computerized pattern recognition to identify dipeptide fragments in an attempt to speed up the sequencing of polypeptides and, ultimately, proteins. Nucleotide chains? FUGGETABBOUTIT! No way.

    I guess my biggest Awesome is genetic sequencing, so advanced it’s now commonplace. And here I laughed at Jurassic Park. No longer!

    1. I recall as a kid when my grandmother (who was born four years before the Wright brothers made their first flight at Kitty Hawk) took me in the backyard at night to watch the first Telstar satellite pass overhead. I was impressed by how much it seemed to mean to her, though to me it was just a little blinking light in the sky. I was more impressed by the instrumental tune of that name by The Tornados that was then a hit on AM radio. 🙂

      1. Oh, man, I haven’t thought about Telstar on the radio for decades! Thanks! And, for some crazy reason, it made me remember Camp Granada. Alan Sherman. We had his LP and used to gather around the hi-fi in the living room and listen to it over and over, laughing every time.

      2. My Grandfather was also born in 1899, Dec. When he was 27 in 1927 he bought his first airplane and never looked back. He later bought land and started his own airport. It was the first and only airport in the town for some time. During the War you could not just run an airport and keep flying so he ran a flight school and trained vets to fly. His first airplane was an American Eagle. So he is also a member of the OX5 club.

  19. [I have to say, the “eating from a half-gallon tub” defense against eating too much would be a terrible idea for me. Being part Labrador Retriever, I do not stop eating, especially ice cream, once I start. Seriously. It’s like giving a big bottle of Jack Daniels to a non-recovering alcoholic and expecting him to have a quick sip before putting it away.]

    As for features of the world that I couldn’t imagine, it may be a bit off point, but I have to say “dark energy”, the discovery that the universe is expanding at an INCREASING rate, and we don’t know for sure what the cause is, was the most stunning and exciting new discovery I remember hearing about in my life. I know it was already there, in fact, but learning about it, which changed all the possible predictions, as Carl Sagan had laid them in Cosmos (book and series) was just revolutionary to me. It still thrills me (and other things like it). Oh, and the LIGO/VIRGO gravitational wave detection and exploration is similarly super cool.

    As for the second, most of my life right now would have been unimaginable when I was a kid, but the fact of having spent time in prison – and NOT even for trying to take over the world, but for things that I would honestly consider wholesome and well-intentioned! – and the various related social and professional unpleasantnesses is probably the most prominent suite of surprises.

    1. “Being part Labrador Retriever” made me laugh. The greediest dog I came across was a Borzoi belonging to friends of my parents (in fact, a sister of British racing driver Jim Clarke and her husband). Shortly before Christmas, some time in the 1970s, the dog managed to open the fridge and wolf down more than a pound of marzipan that was going to be used for icing the Christmas cake. Mum got a frantic call asking if she had any marzipan that she could spare.

        1. Nope, it couldn’t…! I really wish I could remember the poor dog’s name, as we looked after her at least once when the owners were away on holiday.

  20. A couple of areas in this country have really gone down hill and may likely destroy the place as we know it. That is probably worth noting at least. One is politics. It is so bad now I am not sure it is even fixable. The republican camp, I don’t even call a party anymore is continuing to wait for the return of the jerk, Donald Trump. It is a cult of ignorance. The other thing that has overrun this country is the technology of personal weapons. Thanks to the totally wrong Supreme court the country is filled with weapons used only for mass destruction of people. The public is almost totally ignorant to this reality and simply pretend it does not exist. This too can ruin the country and very well may. Even with smarter people at this web sit, the ignorance of this issue is ripe. Currently I do not see much hope.

    1. I take heart on the political side from reading history. US politics have been very dire in the past too! The rhetoric has been surpassed many times in the past.

      I do worry about the effects of the internet and social media however.

      There have always been lots of guns in the US. I’d guess that, where I live, percentage-wise, fewer households have guns now than did when I was a kid — when basically everybody’s Dad has firearms. Not sure where you grew up; but in the “Midwest” where I did (Minnesota), guns were ubiquitous. Every gas station sold .22LR ammunition at the counter.

      I certainly agree that much of the “gun culture” now prominently displayed in the USA is stupid and dangerous. (I have previously stated what measures I think would be useful and achievable in this area.)

  21. 1.) What features of the world exist now that you couldn’t have possibly imagined as a kid? (And do note whether you like them.)

    Online shopping, for one. When I was a kid, there were still Fuller Brush men and door-to-door encyclopedia salepersons. They’ve gone the way of Willy Loman.

    I’ve got mixed feelings, I suppose, since I hate shopping in general. The only
    things I’ve ever had the patience to browse around and shop for are books and records. (And now it’s a helluva hunt to find a decent book or record shop.)

  22. Practically unlimited free porn with a huge variety of genres,

    As a science-fiction reader, Asimov and Clarke told me about most of what was to come. Clarke was better on the near (what we’re talking about here) and very far future, and Asimov in between. Except for the word “internet”, Clarke (and Asimov) described essentially everything we do online today. There is a YouTube video from about 1970 with Clarke predicting cheap hand-held computers more powerful than the supercomputers of the time. Yes, occasionally the details were wrong, such as a communications satellite with a human switchboard operator inside.

    Clarke even wrote a short story about internet pornography.

    1. Yes, free porn available without sanction or effort is also a big “new”. Forgot about that one.

      1. That sounds like a specialty site for people with a stationary fetish…

        Actually, I really prefer paper, pens, and pencils, typewriters, blackboards, and chalk. The teacher never had to wait for the blackboard to stop buffering.

            1. Sometimes the mind moves both too quickly and to slowly at the same time. I can’t even blame that on autocorrect, or the fact that my comments don’t show up until after the edit time window has expired.

      2. I’m not an expert on the topic, but I believe that, at least for a while, Playboy actually stopped printing photographs of nude women. It’s still around. Of course, it is read for the articles anyway. :-). Seriously, there has long been a Braille edition.

        I remember a cartoon with a computer keyboard which had just two, oversized, keys: “music” and “porn”.

  23. Wow. This is a fun exercise after spending the week reading Pluckrose and Lindsay. I have to agree with Linda in comment 2…. space travel and exploration. I am 73 and grew up in a NACA/NASA family. My father was an aeronautical engineer in the 1950’s, being recategorized as an aerospace engineer in the mid-60’s. I read about all things space: planets, asteroids, comets, stars. I remember the Lick Observatory black and white photos used for early planning of the moon landings … my father was a PI for the Surveyer soft landing spacecraft landing system. But now, we have walked on the moon; landed on and explored by rover, Mars; rendezvoused with asteroids and comets, landed on a comet! Imaged exoplanets; visited and taken insitu data from every planet; recognized a continuum of planet-like objects with Pluto leading the way; and on and on and on…just amazing.
    Also having access to almost any information in seconds on the internet. Had our trusty World Book Encyclopedia in 1956. A couple of years ago, i was reading about Robert Oppenheimer in our living room at 3:00 am…a sleepless night…and saw a reference to Oppenheimer being on Edward R. Murrow’s show in the 1950’s with a url. So at three in the morning on my couch in Newport News VA, i could watch the show in the original black and white video after just a couple of keystrokes…again just amazing.

    For myself, i ended up having some political influence on K-12 STEM curriculum that i would never have imagined (having political influence) as a child.

  24. You asked what part of today’s world we could not have imagined as a kid (I’m slightly older than you). I’m a Dem and have never opposed reasonable gun ownership. My extended family owned guns and hunted regularly (I do not own or use guns myself). That said, I don’t recall any family member bragging about guns or making ridiculous statements about 2nd amendment rights. I FELT SAFE FROM GUNS THEN. But with today’s gun culture, we have idiots reminding us daily of their rights? to own unlimited quantities of guns of any type and to carry anywhere. “Reasonable” gun ownership is no longer relevant and no one is safe from gun violence

  25. 1. Has to be the cell phone. The amount of functionality that fits into the palm of your hand is truly amazing. The amount of available content that can be accessed immediately, maps for navigating, built-in camera…I could fill a page. One of the most useful to me is the variety of mobility options available. I don’t own a car so I need alternatives. We had a carshare program here in Austin (it left a year or so ago) and there was a phone app that you could open, find a parked car near you, reserve it, walk to the car, type in a PIN number and the car unlocks, get in and drive to my destination and park it and end my rental. I was so astonished by that service. I also have an app for the bus system here and I can buy a pass in a few seconds and show it to the driver on my phone. Then there is Uber, scooter and bike share apps. Who needs a car?

    2. The Republican Party of today.

  26. I still love paper maps, especially geological and topo maps. They are works of art and the frustration of trying to look at things quickly on a screen, be it maps, articles, or books, is for me not worth the convenience. Plus, no ads to block and they don’t have to load or go dark if I haven’t touched them recently.

    I also still love libraries, even if I don’t really have a good one near me. It seems that they are mostly used by the elderly and the homeless for napping, and the poor for computer access, but I still love them. Like actual books and bookstores, there is no replacement for the feel, the heft, the smell of a book, or the joy of serendipitous shelf searching.

    Add newspapers to the list. I hate not having a real newspaper anymore. Online news is full of crap ads and pop-ups that make everything look and feel sketchy and poorly designed. And don’t get me started about digital music! Call me old-fashioned, I’m 44 and grew up as we really hit the digital age, but I prefer the full experience of real life.

    1. I still prefer a paper map. I learned on USGS topographic maps and high quality road maps (e.g. Michelin 1:200,000). It’s still my preferred navigation mode. But, dang, sometimes it’s really great to be able to zoom in! And the sat-nav in Europe/UK is just stellar in my experience.

  27. Born 1961.

    My treat system was: About once every 1-2 months, I had a hankering for ice cream. I would go to the store and buy one pint of whatever “luxury” ice cream I wanted, polish it off in one go, and then not have any more for another 1-2 months.

    Worked well for me.

    Unimaginable in 1970s: Everything digital (music, photos, moving pictures, objects, drafting, machining, you name it).

    The internets.

    Digital photography is big for me personally. The advent of (really good) digital camera systems and software have opened big new doors to my photography work. And it has allowed me to archive and protect my images like I could never have imagined. It has, just recently, allowed me to bring to life my father’s images of Asia in an amount of time that made the project not just hugely less daunting; but a true joy and pleasure.

    I very much look forward to [the] “story … of what I did on my last day of college when I realized that all the work for my degree was done.” 🙂

    1. I do much the same with ice cream, but it took my two weeks to finish the rum raisin I bought. I’m generally unhappy with the ice cream at my only local store, a Walmart. I miss being near great local ice cream shops like Silas and Maddie’s in Olathe, Ks., or Foo’s Frozen Custard in Kc Mo.

      If only I could be as reserved with beer as with ice cream, I’d probably still be in shape. Which reminds me, what I really miss is being 5 years old and not worrying one bit about body fat, since I had none.

  28. Being able to know the exact genome of anything andbeing able to put it in its correct place in the tree of life!!!!!! The ability to see exactly how evolution happened. And being able to edit that code and make new creatures!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  29. First, may I recommend Kirkland vanilla ice cream? It is super premium, and still comes in half gallon containers. I add chocolate chips, or if you like the cookie dough stuff, you can get that in any grocery store. Other additions could be fruit, or nuts, or marshmallows, or whatever combination you like. That ice cream is amazingly wonderful.

    What I could not have imagined when I was younger is that the US would be teetering on the brink of dictatorship. I could not have imagined that even twenty years ago, although at that time there were glimmers of it.

    I am not so amazed by all the technology because I am married to a techie who has been that way since well before I met him. He was programming when there were punch cards. He bought us our first desktop in 1982, and made it do some amazing stuff. It’s kind of like watching a child grow – if you’re there every day you don’t notice it, but if you only see the kid once a year, the growth is startling.

    L

    1. Hey, I was programming on punchcards too! And 1-inch paper roll tape before that! 300 baud telephone modem! Awesomeness! 😉

      1982 was just about when it began that you actually could do some awesome (graphics, etc.) stuff on computers. They did plenty of awesome number-crunching before that, but visual stuff got going then, pretty much. at least for “regular” people.

      1. I also used punched cards in college and the first year or two of professional life. At my work we even had a manual card punch. It punched a single card at a time and was only practical for making a one-line changes at the computer. We quickly committed to muscle memory the chords needed to punch the limited Fortran character set. I think it was one of these:

      1. I’m a retired shrink who is pretty conversant with authoritarian personalities.

        The MAGAs came really close this time to doing major damage to our democracy.

        The Republicans lost control of the government, and they are not going to let that happen again. The next election that they win will be the last election this country ever has that is legitimate. Unless they are unsuccessful with their voter suppression because the Congress passes the Lewis bill, they will be able to squash the vote to the point of taking over.

        TPM is reporting this afternoon that the person who is heading up the “investigation” of the vote in AZ is a Trumper, and the “investigation” is being funded by a right-wing private charity. What do you suppose they might find?

        L

        1. I’m worried about all those things too but I don’t think they are close enough to winning to warrant “teetering”. In order to succeed in their coup, they have to do some really crazy things. The crazier things they do, the more the sane people and institutions will fight back. While states like AZ are trying to install laws that would allow the GOP to take control of voting if a Democrat won, it is unlikely that would be Constitutional. It has just as much a chance of turning the state Blue for a generation. I am also buoyed by corporations coming out against the new voting laws in GA. There are many institutions in the US that are normally quiet on political issues but they would get loud if democracy was truly jeopardized. We have to fight of course but we’re far from teetering on the brink of defeat.

  30. This is a trifle off-topic, but the spectacular advances in medical practice owe a great deal, not to biomedical research (as we used to pretend in our NIH grant applications) but to the revolution in
    computing.
    Think about it. Diagnostics, electronic imagery, laparoscopic surgery, radiotherapy, not to mention medical records and communication between specialists—all absolutely dependent on our
    modern computer technology.

    I also agree that “word processing is a real boon”, but I cannot avoid a wistful note in this connection.
    The best, most user-friendly word-processor ever was found in the Smith Corona PWP devices of about 30 years ago. They did everything we need in word processing, and were much easier to use than the now ubiquitous Microsoft products. But their discs were not compatible with PCs, and so the PWP devices have joined slide-rules and vacuum tubes in the Museum of the Obsolete. Smith Corona, once one of the leading typewriter firms, slid into near-bankruptcy, and now manufactures thermal label strips. Its major legacy, beside the now unused PWP in my basement, is the Smith Tower in downtown Seattle, one of the very few beautiful buildings in that mish-mash.

  31. The BBC used to have a program called “Tomorrow’s World” which featured technology which they thought would be coming in the not-too-distant future. I remember watching an edition in the late 80’s (I think) where a tourist was standing at the Grand Canyon taking a photo; he then pressed a button, sending the photo straight to his relatives and friends. I remember being quite skeptical at the time; now I am just mildly bemused by people posting photos in real time to their Facebook pages.

    1. I think there’s still a Tomorrow’s World-inspired offshoot, Tomorrow’s World Today, on the Science Channel.

  32. I am 83 and have seen a lot of changes as a result. I have been a computer software developer for all of my working life so I have seen the affects of computers ar first hand,
    1. The most imaginable things are still works in progress to me.
    a) Self driving cars are at the top of the list. As I have given up driving they offer a hope of new mobility.
    b) The melding of the Internet with the advances in brain-computer interfaces promise major advances in our ability to access data, store it and process it,
    2. The changes in perspective that age brings.

  33. 1.) What features of the world exist now that you couldn’t have possibly imagined as a kid?

    Global warming & nearly 8 billion people…

    2.) What about your life now would have seemed unimaginable when you were a kid?

    That I would be retired at 61 having achieved nothing in my miserable life…

    1. Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb came out in 1968, and climate change was widely talked about then, too – although I seem to recall that most of the doom and gloom TV documentaries when we were young were about an impending ice age…?

      Although global warming was also a concern back then.

      1. That said, I think there are scenarios in which the melting of the North Pole will lead to denser fresh water interrupting the Gulf Stream/Atlantic meridional overturning circulation leading to colder weather in the UK. Aren’t there places in Canada at the same latitude with polar bears? At least you’ll be cold and happy…!

  34. Childhood (and young adult) me could have never imagined an adult in a grade school classroom declaring that young people with penises were not necessarily boys.

    What about my life now would have seemed unimaginable? Going gray.

  35. I could not have imagined the Designated Hitter or inter-league play and both are terrible.

    The internet is great.

    1. The designated hitter is nothing compared to the new Manfred-rules baseball. 7-inning double headers, starting the 10th inning man on 2nd base, instant replay call challenges, possible ban against the shift, and all sorts of other crap because his highness the Moron Manfred thinks he can speed up the game and make baseball as popular as football again. What next, aluminum bats and slow-pitch?

  36. What about your life now would have seemed unimaginable when you were a kid?

    Science denial, especially vaccine skepticism. Maybe the latter existed when I was younger, but I was happily unaware. I remember getting booster shots as a kid, and my mother taking my younger siblings in for their vaccines (I’m 41). I remember my mother and father telling us about polio scares and measles and mumps, and how wonderful it was that we didn’t have to worry about these things ever again because of SCIENCE. *hysterical laughter*

    One thing I did think we’d have by now is a woman president.

  37. The ubiquity of multiple bathrooms in the home (currently we have three for three people). As a kid, we had 4 rooms down, two more bedrooms upstairs, with the sole bathroom (tub, no shower) at the head of the stairs. Once older sister was married, both upstairs bedrooms were rented to “roomers” for $5/month. Alcoholic Mr. Malen staggered and muttered through my and little brother’s bedroom late each night and up the stairs; in the other room was Polish refugee, Casimir.
    So, six people sharing that one upstairs bathroom. Somehow it seemed quite normal.

  38. I was born in 1966 and I remember the big deal when my parents could finally afford a colour TV and central air conditioning. I was about 13 when my father showed me the desktop computer he was given at work, and he used to bring home the book on FORTRAN which he had to learn to program it (I would ‘borrow’ the book sometimes to try to understand programming language).

    I used to watch Star Trek so I assumed that one day we would have communicators (mobile phones) and tricorders (also mobile phones) and that we would be able to communicate with video as well as audio but I never imagined it would be within my lifetime.

    I suppose what I never would have imagined is the ability to conjure up just about every TV show or movie whenever we want (Netflix, YouTube) – I tell younger people about missing crucial episodes of TV shows or arranging your social life around the TV schedule.

    1. I was about 7 when my parents got a colour TV in the late 70s. My brother and I were watching a cartoon on our old black and white TV and our parents came in and said “Come and watch in the other room”. It didn’t occur to us that we didn’t – until that moment – have a TV in the other room; we just ran through, plonked ourselves down and continued watching the cartoon, now in colour. Our parents waited to see our reaction but we simply never noticed!

  39. In my 20’s (around 1970) I assumed that the moves to more equitable distributions of income, social justice etc would be likely to accelerate – wrong!

  40. Of all the things that impress me (and many people have mentioned things that impress me too) I’ll go for the immediacy of information. A little meta perhaps.

    When I was a lad if you wanted to know something you turned to an encyclopaedia, or went to a school or public library. And even then it was hard work if you wanted to know something uncommon – it could take days or even remain unanswered. Today you can turn to the internet, and even access that on your mobile phone, in the middle of a conversation.

    You may argue that a lot of the ‘information’ on the internet is suspect… but then a lot of the ‘official’ information in days of paper was iffy too. But we did not realise it.

  41. We first got a tv in 1969 – to watch the moon landing. In the UK there were three channels back then and it was in black and white (I don’t recall when colour tv was first broadcast but we were not early adopters of any technology!). Gradually over the years the number of channels available increased but until the late 1990s many UK families still only had access to about half a dozen ‘terrestrial’ (i.e. not satellite broadcast) channels. Although people had VCRs, programmes were generally watched at the time they were broadcast and popular programmes could unite vast sections of the population in simultaneous viewing. Now television may be watched on a screen that is broadly similar to the ones we had before (albeit bigger, brighter and clearer) but the programmes are mainly delivered via the internet and we have a practically limitless choice and can watch things at whatever time suits us. There are still the same number of hours in the day, however, and as many – if not more – other things to be doing with the time as there ever were!

  42. I remember science fiction of the 50s and 60s occasionally referring to pocket computers. Arguably that is what we have now in mobile/cell phones.

    Posted as a reply to William at #2. Tried twice but it still ended up here!

    1. We’re not far off having Star Trek ‘tricorders’. Mobiles that can already analyse your breathing patterns, check your pulse and so on. There are some add-on parts that enable you to test for particular diseases.

      It’s a hand held terminal Jim, but not as we know it.

      P.S. Don’t wear the red away shirt.

  43. Going back four generations, my family history illustrates the remarkable pace of change. In 1853 my Y-chromosome-line great-grandfather moved from Georgia to Alabama in a wagon to homestead mountain land that he had scouted previously. When he reached the Coosa River, he sold his wagon and swam his horses across because there was no road by which the wagon could reach his land. He was illiterate as I determined from a promissory note, secured by a pair of oxen, that he signed with an X in 1880.

    My paternal grandfather was born on the mountain in May 1858, before the Linnaean Society meeting that began the growth of Darwinian science. Coming of age in the aftermath of the Civil War he received only enough schooling to be literate. Nevertheless he acquired valley land where he built a log house, in which my father was born at the beginning of the 20th century.

    My father left school after the 8th grade to do what until recently in rural areas of the South was called “public work” meaning work that was not within one’s farm. By 30 he became a business manager, and later an owner of businesses.

    Today, not yet into my dotage, I buy and sell stock index futures contracts via a fiber optic cable that returns my fill notices within one second. That’s a long way from the backbreaking labor on Backbone Mountain.

    To address Dr. Coyne’s actual question: Working toward a degree in biology, I saw technological advancement as a given, though of course I didn’t foresee the pace or details. What would have been inconceivable to me in 1963 is that the United States would have its politics degenerate to levels of animosity, untruthfulness and insanity which approach those of the 1850’s, with the ominous implications that entails.

  44. Both Jerry’s observations, and those of the commenters, I’ve noticed but for me I notice most the creeks and streams being (mostly) clear again. When I was a kid in West Virginia, peoples’ sewage from septic systems and coal mine runoff was just dumped into those creeks. They were an orange, often smelly, mess, especially in summer. A recent visit highlighted the change to my eyes.

  45. 1.) What features of the world exist now that you couldn’t have possibly imagined as a kid? (And do note whether you like them.)

    Many readers have mentioned the advances in computing and communications, and it is certainly not something I could have foreseen.
    Rotary dial telephones were a rarity on the farms where we lived – most were crank types! – and not all farms even had one!
    However, when I entered university to study towards an electrical/electronic engineering degree, I began to understand that the world was on the cusp of greater things to come (in the areas of computing and communications), but of course I could not in any way have dreamt about the things that we consider as commodities today – ubiquitous electronic networks that link the entire world, and powerful computers (i.e. cell phones) in the palm of one’s hand.

    Do I like these things? Yes and no. They are simultaneously hugely beneficial and maddening curses.
    Firstly, I was able to have a career in the mentioned fields, which funded my kids through university, supported my parents in their old age, and of course just living life, and eventually a retirement, not rich but with at least basic necessities taken care of.
    I could never again stand in queues at month-end to pay bills. Today I pay my accounts by online banking, scheduled in advance for repeat payments. One can order just about any conceivable item online, and that, for me, is a huge boon.
    Modern life is not possible without the immediacy of communication systems we have access to: things like talking to kids and family from literally anywhere in the world, emergency assistance, online maps, etc, etc.

    The depravity (wokeness, insults, racism, and any other malignancy of the mind ad nauseam) enabled by social media is a well-trodden path, the final consequences of which are still not clear – but the portends are not good. I have no idea what can be done about it – the (ugly) genie is out of the bottle for good.

    A second thing which came as a big unpleasant surprise was the overpopulation of the world, coupled with the ecological destruction and climate change, with the relentless growth in human numbers probably as one of the major causes of these disasters. Clearly, these were not uppermost, or even at all, in my mind as a kid, but growing up in a sparsely populated rural area, one almost assumes that that is how the world is and will continue to be. Then, at some stage the reality slowly dawned on me that nature, as I knew and experienced it as a kid was slipping away never to be again. And that saddens me immensely. Some readers have commented that they have seen localised recoveries, and of course that is true and fantastic. But everything I read and hear tells me that the worldwide trend is going one way. David Attenborough gallantly fights to educate the world, but human population pressures for food and shelter don’t care about the philosophical niceties of us in the comfortable middle classes.

    2.) What about your life now would have seemed unimaginable when you were a kid?

    The one thing that would have seemed the most unimaginable of all things, is that I would sit here, today, typing away as an atheist!

    I grew up in a very rural area, under Protestant Calvinism, where truth was dictated from the pulpit and the bible, the government told us what and how to think about political issues and especially other (non-white!) people. No questions were tolerated. It was only when I entered university in the immoral, sinful(!) big city, that I slowly began to understand that there was a whole world about which I knew nothing at all. It took a long time to ditch religion, but eventually, about 20 years ago, I finally rid myself of the cognitive dissonance between my professional life as an engineer where the laws of nature were the only game in town, and the f*****g make-believe crap of the religious firmament.
    Hard as that process was, it is an absolute joy at being not afraid of hell, not beholden to some vicious, vengeful, hate-filled imaginary ghost.

    I certainly could not have imagined that, but marvel at the freedom of a rational world view every day! Jerry’s writings are of course significant in regularly strengthening those views.

    And so I rest my case 🙂 🙂

  46. Here are some things I didn’t predict

    1. as the child of divorced parents it always upset me that there were long periods of time when I could not speak to my father and later my brother (who went to live with my father when he was very unwell). Back then long distance calls were very expensive. I thought it would always be that way and I marvel now at how easy it is to make a long distance call and talk for hours.
    2. i know you don’t like podcasts, but I love audiobooks, podcasts and being able to get radio from almost anywhere. I think we had a few records of spoken word performances, but i never imagined how great it would be to have audiobooks. There are some amazing readers who can change their voices almost like they are reading all the parts of a play.
    3. not just computers but the whole concept of google searches to find just about anything. I found clips of my late husband as a child on the baby game in the 60s! not to mention the digitization of so much printed material. how about google translate? so much amazing stuff. Remember using the citation index? going to the library and hefting those large volumes off the shelf. The digital world and ability to search it is fantastic.
    4. that letters would essentially go away. yes we have email, but I agree with you that letters are different- more deliberate, more slowly composed. I have an amazing archive of letters sent to and from my mother (she kept copies of a lot of her letters). I was at least glad that I got condolence letters when my spouse died and I still send such letters to others.
    5. some negative stuff- that fraud due to digital manipulation would become so easy. I became a forensic analyst of digital figures when I was a journal editor. What I saw was disturbing. (fake news goes into this category too- the death of journalism?)
    6. food. remember when everything was seasonal? Now for a price we can have so many foods year round.
    7. stuff for women: sports bra, our bodies ourselves, vibrators. Well these might not be fair for me to mention because they were available as I came of age, but I knew these were incredible developments (along with the ready access of birth control).
    8. overnight delivery.
    9. gay marriage. I never thought it would happen in my lifetime
    10. remote warfare (drones and such). the idea that someone could control lethal technology from far away and kill so easily was not something I considered.

  47. I would never have conceived of the options we have for listening to music.I was born in 1955. When I was about 10 I got a GE transistor radio for Christmas. About the size of an iPhone, but thicker. I listened to a Top 40 format station that would play that week’s #1 song every hour on the hour. After dark, I could sometimes pick up a radio station from Indianapolis (I lived near Syracuse, NY). We also had a big Magnavox console radio/record player about the size of a small couch, and about 15 33 1/3 LPs and a handful of 45s that my sister and I would occasionally pool some of our weekly 25 cents a week allowance to buy. Now I have an iPod (yes, still) with thousands of songs, Sirius radio with many dozens of stations, Pandora and Spotify, along YouTube and others. I can basically call up any song I ever heard any time I want. No more waiting til the top of the hour to find out Satisfaction by the Stones is #1 again this week!

  48. I’m 80. My childhood saw the birth of hi-fi, LP records and stereo. Later came CDs, DVDs and MP3 files. My music collection has gone thru the corresponding conversions and that took work. As a music lover (mainly classical and jazz), I am thrilled and delighted with that.

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