Friday, September 3, 2010

Is the world getting ever faster, or just kinda moving along?

This isn't a writing post, this was just a dumb history-geek musing that was keeping me awake last night for some reason. (Actually I think the dark chocolate I ate at 1 am was keeping me awake, the weird swirl of thoughts was from the stimulant. Bad idea.)

I had this conversation with my dad last week about how technology keeps advancing all the time and how the world keeps moving faster and faster. I think about this sometimes and it's really terrifying, because it seems like if the world keeps accelerating, pretty soon we're just going to explode or something.

But we were talking about what an advancement actually consists of. Is a faster computer every week truly the world getting faster? I sort of feel like it really only counts as a true advancement if you have trouble imagining life without it. Like, I was born in 1982 and spent the first fourteen years of my life without really experiencing the internet, but now I can't imagine life without it. It seems astounding when I think how my mom used to plan a vacation using Mobil Travel Guides. OMG! Nightmare! Ditto cell phones. I still barely own a cell phone--it's a pay-as-you-go piece of junk that usually sits unused in a pile of papers--but I'm SO used to OTHER people having cell phones that I also have trouble remembering what we did before they came along.

But, I don't consider faster internet really much of an upgrade. I mean, sure, it's hugely important, but if we suddenly all had to use 14.4k modems, my life wouldn't be utterly destroyed. We'd go back to more mailing lists and message boards than Twitter and such, and web pages would have to become less fancy again, but it wouldn't completely change life as we know it. It's sort of like if we all had to drive Model Ts. Yeah, they kind of putter along and probably everyone would learn more about car repairs, but you could still get around.

So in my lifetime I really only see the personal computer (I don't remember my family not having a computer, but they came into general household use when I was alive), internet, and the cell phone as the life-changing inventions of my time.

I still think the early 20th century was the most accelerated point in history. If I'd been born in 1900, it would be 1928 now, and I would have seen movies, the automobile, the radio, the telephone, widespread electricity, quite a few major innovations for housekeeping like the washing machine and vacuum cleaner (might not seem as important but it had a huge impact on women's lives)...Some major medical advances, too, I guess. I'm not as up on my medical history. Sanitation, certainly. The toilet came into widespread use at this time, and baths! The airplane I'm not sure counts until people actually began to use airplanes to travel regularly. I think it would be more of a shocker for a child of 1950 to go back to 1900 than a child of 2000 to go back to 1950. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's about the same because kids would go nuts without video games these days or something.

Or maybe inventions are just more subtle and complicated these days so we don't notice how much is going on. I don't know. I do always wonder what the major innovations of the next few decades will be. I'm guessing they will be in green technology. I hope so. I *think* we're nearly maxed out on communication technology.

Thus concludes a very random post.

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