Think of this as Volume 16, Number 36 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
My wife wanted me to scan our old photos into the computer, so they would be part of the screensaver that plays over our family dinners.
Suddenly I was brought back into another time. There was a rugged Texas clan holding a reception for the kid who'd stolen their youngest daughter. Here was a California family welcoming that daughter as an in-law.
I'd taken the daughter, and from that day to this she has been the love of my life.
Rather than fall into melancholia, which my kids don't like to see, I thought it more useful to look at the environment that young man moved in, and what's changed. So last week my daughter and I drove down those Texas roads, toward the city of San Antonio where that reception took place. Everyone in those pictures has since passed away, save a few from my own generation, one of whom still lives in that house on the hill.
I was struck more by the similarities between that world and this than the differences. The road is the same, the scenery the same, even the home is much the same, and the cars I passed aren't very different in appearance. The city of San Antonio is a little bigger, with more big box stores than malls, and a lot more diverse. But my late in-laws could have navigated it easily. It would be home to them.
The differences lie beneath the surface. This medium for instance. It's what I dreamed about and talked about then. It's all here now. My dad died of complications from hypertension caused by high cholesterol. I've taken pills for a decade that are preventing that in me. There was a lot of smoking in that society, and a serious generation gap. I wore t-shirts then and wear them still, but none of the older generation in those pictures did so – it was all button-down shirts and dress slacks.
Then, I thought, those ruddy middle-aged folks in those pictures were in their late 50s, the same age I'm at now. What did their pasts look like?
Physically it was very different. There were no freeways in the early 1940s, not in that part of Texas. The cars were smaller, they were very expensive, and most travel was by train. There was no TV, only radio, and the word “cancer” meant a death sentence. The music was completely different, and society's attitudes were dominated by a global war that consumed the whole generation. A young man of 23 then was an old man. Maybe he'd already seen Guadacanal. Certainly he was waiting anxiously for D-Day.
And what of their parents? What of the young society they had seen? What was south Texas like in the year 1900?
No cars. No radio. Few paved roads. No oil industry – not yet. You lived on the land and the land either served you or you went hungry. Food was precious, leisure short. Church was vital, and if you looked around you'd find Civil War veterans, some of them newly-retired, still holding the old grudges. Mexicans were foreigners, and doctors were quacks. Patent medicines still ruled. The best you might hope for was to move to a factory job. The Texas of 1900 had more in common with today's China than the Texas of 2012.
The point here is that the nature of change has shifted, in our time. Most change now lies under the surface. We don't have the jet cars or the robot servants our grandfathers drew in 1940s science fiction. Yet the present can change, now, faster than some futurists can imagine it.
I've spent some time this summer with David Brin's latest novel, Existence. It takes place in the middle and toward the end of this century, and extrapolates from many points of our time. Yet I noticed right away that he still had cars that required drivers. I suspect driver-less cars will be common by the end of this decade. Better and better comes faster and faster indeed.
I spent time with my mother this summer, and know it's unlikely I will see the universe Brin's latest book describes. When that time comes, my kids will be about the age that I am at now. But the trend seems clear – the physical changes in our world are becoming smaller as we move forward, the larger changes lie beneath the surface, in how we work, in how we live, in the size and diversity of the world around us.
The Internet was the story of my life. I believe the protection of the planet will be the story of my childrens' lives. Unlike many people, I am optimistic that they are up to the challenge. If I live to be 89, the age my mom is at now, I think I will be well-pleased.
A larger point here is that we are all time travelers. We are given some time here in our bodies. It may be long, it may be short. We travel through it and do the best we can with it, see as much as we can with it, and hope that we can push things forward just a little bit for those who come after us. I know now that I stand on the shoulders of my parents' generation, and my children stand on my own. I voyage forward into a narrowing window, as the world opens up for them. As it was in those old pictures for my parents, so it is for me.
And I think to myself. What a wonderful world.