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?