October 3, 2022
Short essay on the following prompt from a course for my master’s work:
The most significant change in my Grandparents time was probably the transition from the age of scarcity brought on by the great depression to the age of industrialization, modernization, and abundance in post-war America. Aside from hearing stories about the great depression and the lasting effects this had on their lifestyles (my grandparents were notoriously thrifty and saved money diligently), it was interesting to hear the ways in which my grandparents were able to progress both professionally and socio-economically despite only having high school educations. Mass manufacturing, and in their later years rising globalization, allowed my grandparents, people of relatively humble means, to live incredibly comfortable and luxurious lives. Clothing, food, homes, and cards (and eventually duplicates of all of those comforts) were all affordable on my grandfather’s wages as a union electrician. Their life time of saving (along with wages & inflation remaining largely inline with one another during my grandfather’s working years) even afforded them the opportunity comfortably and peacefully retire in Florida.
The most transformative change during my parent’s time was likely the evolution of the Nuclear age. Nuclear weapons were at the heart of the cold war and for the first 40 years of their lives, haunted the world like a specter; and if the Bush administration’s post-9/11-aluminum-tubes-to-nuclear-weapons-to-Middle-East-destabilization foreign policy. Alongside this, they experienced the growth and stagnation of the nuclear power industry; ranging from the hype of and widespread use of nuclear reactors to disasters like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl demonstrating the dark side of energy that’s too cheap to meter. The tools of the Nuclear age, nuclear power and nuclear weapons, continue to rattle around in the attic of globalization to this day! Recent remarks by Vladimir Putin (and, let’s be honest, many remarks between 2016 and 2020 by the Trump administration) have suddenly thrust discussions about sanity being a necessary component for deterrence back into international spotlight.
The most transformative change in my life is, undoubtedly, the rise of the information age, and perhaps most importantly as part of that, the consumerization of computers & technology. My first computer was an Apple IIc Plus which I played a lot of Oregon Trail on, and I type this on a 2020 MacbookPro (but, sadly I don’t have enough time to devote as much time to as I had devoted to fording the Green river and surviving dysentery). My first experience online was navigating the clunk walled garden of America Online, and today I route all my traffic through a VPN to avoid surveillance capitalism-based big tech companies from tracking my activity online. I’ve grown up alongside the capabilities of my devices, the globalized infrastructure that makes them affordable, and increasingly personally-invasive business models of the technology companies that make the hardware and software I am still in awe of when I compare them to my 5 ¼" floppies on my Apple IIc Plus. Like many Americans, I am a technology neophile! But, the older I get the more I think the technology we’ve created, commercialized, and become dependent on to live, work, and play may have broken our brains. Whether this was intentional or not, I haven’t yet decided.
The most transformative change of the generation after me is likely to be dealing with the rapid degradation of the natural environment, and as a result, bring an end to the age of abundance and globalization. Our modern society has broken the natural environment, and I am increasingly skeptical we’re going to invent, manufacture, and consume our way out of this mess. The next generation is likely going to be faced with rapid decline in standards of living when compared to today, and their grandparents generation. More likely than not, they will be forced to directly clean up the messes of their grandparents and great grandparents; along with dealing with a natural environment that’s hostile to living in many of the places where great cities once flourished and will rapidly be falling into disrepair. However, history is full of adversity breeding ingenuity, and people have demonstrated a great capacity for adaptation to the natural environment. I’m holding out hope, but I’m not holding my breath.
The world history from 1900-2050 written in the future is likely to highlight the staggering technological achievements; but, I hope will highlight the cautionary tales of living in excess and waging war and armed conflicts on the global scale. In the same way American’s like to point to the 1970s era Soviet Union scarcity as the reason why communism doesn’t work; I hope that future nations point toward the Post-9/11 America as the reason why capitalism (and global rule by an unbridled college of corporations) doesn’t work.