In many ways 1920 doesn't really seem all that far away to me while 1860, 1870, 1880 (a century from when I was a child) seemed to be forever ago.
When I look at film and photos from 1920 I see modern people, people I could see meeting and having relatively modern conversations while when I look at media from the mid 1800s I see ancestors who I share very little with.
I'd also reckon you can more easily relate to people who lived with older technology, having lived pre-internet yourself. When you are young, everything just is, and it's hard to relate with living differently.
It seems like if you were to graph the pace of change, there would be a hump around the First World War. I think the coming of the information age is creating another hump, but at the same time it seems like so far, surprisingly little has changed as a result of it.
If this idea is true, those in the 1920s share more with us (familiarity with cars, mass media, urbanization) than those just 50 years prior.
"You know in school, in history class, 100 years seems like a long time. It's not really."
I can imagine how the transitions they experienced through the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s may have seemed to them much like how my world evolved in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. While I can surely find some milestone events in my personal life, I do not see stark boundaries I would consider truly different ages/eras for society as a whole. I remember how every recent transition took years and perhaps never completed.
I wonder if certain cultural artifacts and stories in history and pop culture give us a more consistent sense of past eras/ages prior to our own experiences. Things like railroads, electrification, automobiles, film, the great depression, airplanes, films with sound, color film, TV, antibiotics... they all were smeared over many years but we can easily ignore that when talking about the past.
I wonder what someone born now will feel about the 1920s once they are old enough to communicate their opinions.
So he proves this out by taking an example of what happens if you hit someone on the head and assuming that person sleeps for a long time, how will he feel out of place in the world. Here are the examples I remembered he used (paraphrasing):
1. If you take someone living in the 1700s, knock them on the head, and have them wake up any time till the mid 1800s, to that person, life feels almost the same even though 100s of years have passed. Sure, maybe there are more buildings, more people, more horses, weapons are more or less the same, etc but essentially life is still familiar.
2. Now take someone living in, lets say 1850, knock them out and have them wake up in 1880. Holy shit, suddenly the world is so much brighter and there are "lights" everywhere. What witchcraft is this?? The world will look so different from what he/she remembers them.
3. Now take that same person living in 1880, hit them on the head again and have him/her wake up 35 years later and it is 1915. HOLY DOUBLE CRAP, what is this new fangle machine on wheels on the streets people are on and where have all the horses gone?? Ok I need to go into the toilet and wash my face...OMG WHAT IS THIS FLUSHING THING AND THIS METAL SPROUT CREATES MY OWN CLEAN RIVER??? Walks to the city and wow, look at all these buildings looking like mountains! And not only that, he/she looks up in the sky and sees gigantic "metal birds"...WTF YOU CAN RIDE THEM AND NOW GET FROM LA TO NY in a couple of hours?? The world will look completely magical to them.
Now here is the interesting thing - if you take someone from 1920s, hit them on our head, and put them in 2020.. that economist surmises that life will look pretty much the same to that person, not unlike scenario (1) where you take someone from 1700s and put them in the 1800s. Vehicles might look a bit more modern, buildings might look a bit more taller or "sleek-er", there are way much more people but essentially, the world hasn't really change much. Oh, there is this new computer & internet thing but that's it.
So yep, it is nothing to do with you. We just happen to live in a time where we have yet to experience a "leap" in invention where life has become completely magical to us. My guess will be, the day space tech becomes a common place and attainable, that will be when the world looks magically different to those of us living today and that generation will feel the same leap as the inhabitants living from 1850~1920.
But I thoroughly agree that they are the two (one?) biggest revolution in history.
The UI layer is all still prototypes. The economic layer, very early prototypes. The programming languages are prototypes. You can tell because <1% of the population can even use them. Imagine what cars or T.V.’s were like at that penetration. We have barely begun.
I'd argue that nowadays there are more people that use the internet/smartphone devices than there are people that drive cars or watch TVs.
Internet usage has far overtook both cars and television by now. Nobody cares about programming languages or "UI", just like most people that drive cars really don't care about the internals of the engine.
This sentence is doing an unbelievable amount of work. I don't think you realize how strange it is that we have instant-speed trans-Atlantic communication that can transmit massive amounts of data. Computers are practically foreign objects to plenty of people born in the 60s, who grew up as they were invented. You don't think someone from 1920, with no prior exposure to them, would think that a smartphone is just a standard part of everyday life?
Not to mention all the other massive changes to society that you ignored. Commercial flights started in the 1920s and are now commonplace in everyday life. Digital audio; televisions; massive changes to cars; ATMs and credit cards. Can you imagine someone from the 1920s trying to operate a Dyson AirBlade?
This is before accounting for the crazy rate of cultural change that would shock someone from 100 years ago. Half the words used in daily conversation wouldn't even make sense to someone from 1920.
I think a lot of modern tech is really just 19th century tech done (a lot) better, smaller, faster, more conveniently, and much more widespread.
1920 was at the beginning of the wave of post-1914 turmoil of the end of empires. Europe had been swept by war and revolution, and nobody would have known how that was going to turn out. Poland was still about 10% Jewish. China was still in the "warlord era" before the rise and fall of the KMT. India (and much of the rest of the world) was still British.
For a sense of the quasi-feudal pre-war Europe, I will always reccomend A Time Of Gifts, Patrick Fermor's walk across Germany and Eastern Europe in the 1930s.
And yes. When I first time a programmed a real computer in 1972, I was truly amazed, because I tought the "programs" were just a way represents algorithms and the "computer" was just an theoretical machine. At first I thought there was another human at the other end of Teletype-line, but the bloody "computer" was just too fast.
One unspoken difference from "just" computers directly between 1920 and now is checking in on farms or factories is wondering where everybody went and if they checked in on a nursing home would likely make them think there was an underpopulation crisis.
The SPT Airboat Line  was the closest to an airline in the US at the time. It operated 20 mile flights across Tampa bay for 6 months in 1914 before ceasing operations.
Flying from NY to LA was not happening on any regular basis, and took much more than a couple of hours. The first transcontinental flight in 1911  took 80+ flight hours over more than a month. Fast forward to 1933, transcontinental passenger flights took 20+ hours . Nonstops finally became available in the late 40s and early 50s.
I count the last technological leap as the transistor. We could have conceptually come up with computers and the internet any time over the past couple thousand years, but the use of electricity brought possible designs down to a useful speed, and transistors finally brought them down to a useful size.
edit: tbh, I think CMOS was also a big jump. A big leap in the efficiency of power consumption would also spur a massive revolution.
E.g. We're no where closer to having a utopian-level of control over our government. Something that the rise of ubiquitous tech should have solved. On some level, we're all very averse to the notion as well, almost as if our attitudes to it have not changed and we have not worked on making tech good enough for us to be comfortable with it.
Or: Government structures have not changed at all. As a libertarian, I struggle to even conceive how people in the government can even change the structure and ordering of government at this point. We got to our current structures somehow in the past, but we seemed to have stopped the evolution and have almost doubled-down.
Why do you think it should have happened already? We’ve only had good lithium ion batteries for a decade or two. Same for the internet, maybe 20 years of widespread use. Solar cells are only just starting to compete with coal. There is much work to do, and we’re doing it but it takes time.
Information can travel instantly, that’s an important change, but the process of actually building the semantic router is not trivial. And the tech for affordable off-grid civilization is really juuust maturing right now.
What makes you say that?
To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever carried out a rigorous analysis on the stability (in the dynamical systems meaning of the word) of our societies; whether they trend to dystopia or utopia.
But it isn't very difficult to argue that the US, at least, is currently trending dystopic. Look no further than citizens united.