I have a feeling this is a deceptively complex question. How has the county changed during MY lifetime seems like it should be easy, I mean after all, I’ve been around for more than half a century, and in that long, things are bound to change, right?
Thing is, like watching something grow, when the changes are gradual, it’s not until you look at them as an overview, in the rear-view mirror as it were, that you actually see the changes. This is the reason when you haven’t seen someone or something for a while, there’s always the exclamation of “Look how you’ve changed.” It’s like time travel, really.
So when we get to the idea of how has the country changed, I have to really think about it and go back 50+ years to think about where it was then and where it is now. Of course, then I also have to take into consideration that I can only see these changes through my own lens, my own experiences. My own beliefs and ideologies.
With all that in mind, how has the country changed?
It’d be easy to start with the last few years. No matter which side of the political spectrum you’re on, there’s no way to avoid the fact that things have taken a pretty bad turn in the last decade and a half or so, but is that the way we want to go with this? I’m not sure. I think discussing change through a straight up political lens might be the wrong tack, but then again, being a white male, my own privilege allows me to be apolitical about things.
Instead, let’s just go back to the 60s and take a look from there – but my caveat is I’m going to try and not look things up, I’m going to go strictly off memories and personal recollections (and things I know about from personal readings and research). This is also going to slant heavily along the lines of my interests and personal concerns. So be it.
To start with, in 1969, two years after I was born, we landed a man on the moon. That’s a pretty impressive feat when you think about it. In terms of change, though, think about this: we were able to send three guys along a trajectory which would hit a moving target some 250,000 miles away with reasonable accuracy using human brain power. Sure, there were “computers” but almost all of the math was checked by hand, mostly by women.
This was a phenomenal achievement and yet, today, when we hold more computing power in the palm of our hands, we’ve abandoned our reach for the stars. Space flight is now in the hands of private individuals. Which is another huge change. While there’s always been wealthy people, the fact that two different individuals are funding separate space launches is wild. The amount of money it costs to launch someone into space seems ridiculous when in private hands.
But this is what’s happening. Wealth accumulation is becoming exponential amongst the wealthiest folks. A side-effect is that corporations (another big change, corporations are now people) are swallowing up smaller competitors. In the publishing business, there are only like five different companies publishing 95% percent of all the books. In broader entertainment, having a company like Disney owning more and more properties and distribution chains just means there’s going to be fewer and fewer options.
That said, when I first started reading, comic books and Hardy Boys were my go-tos. Now, things I used to get laughed at and made fun of for, liking science fiction and superheroes, are all the rage. It’s nice to be part of the in-crowd, even just for a little bit. And it’s nice to see these childhood role-models on the silver screen, brought to life by special effects which appear like seamless representations of reality.
Back when I started watching TV, it was pretty homogeneous, nothing too daring or risqué and, predominately, straight and white. Now, with so many choices beyond the three networks I grew up with, television gets the chance to push boundaries and take risks, and it gets to diversify, at least somewhat. It’s nice to watch a show and see a character’s sexuality, whatever it is, be taken for granted and just treated as part of who they are rather than it being a “very special episode.”
Along those same lines, entertainment has really changed. Yes, in the offerings themselves, which is great, but also in the delivery systems. I love that I can carry a single, lightweight device in my backpack which can hold hundreds of books, comics, some videos, and hours of music. Sure, nothing beats holding a physical copy of something, but having electronic access is something we only used to dream about – like the video phones of the Jetsons, yet here we are, having real-time video calls from as far as half a world away and doing it several times a day.
I could certainly keep going. The changes in medicine alone over the last 50 years could fill a book or two. The way Las Vegas, my hometown, has grown from a relatively small desert oasis to a city with a population over 2 million and their own major league football and hockey teams (Go Golden Knights!) is certainly impressive, but not as much as the change in the way resorts function on the fabled Strip.
Probably the biggest change, though, is in what we call social media. For good or ill, it affects pretty much every aspect of our daily lives in a way we couldn’t even have imagined back in the Summer of Love. It allows us to make incredibly close friends with folks whom we’ve never met in person and keep in touch with those who we know and are simply far away from. It can affect our thoughts and feelings and shopping habits. It is absolutely a force to be reckoned with.
The thing that interests me the most, though, is what are the changes we’re going to see in the next 50 years. I have a strong suspicion things are just starting to get interesting.