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It's interesting about growing older. I don't know if this is a function of aging or a change in how humanity recons time. When I was younger, a century seemed like forever. Now it's just 1920 and we have film, music, audio, books and so on from that time period readily available.

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.






When you were in middle school, 1920 was 8 or so lifetimes ago. Now it's closer to only 2-3 lifetimes ago.

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.


I think the world has at least in many ways changed a lot less between 1920 and today than in the preceding century, or even the preceding few decades. WW1 did a lot to yank the world into modernity: large scale assembly line industry, women working outside of the house, US interventionism, social welfare (the 30's technically, at least in the US), not to mention the entire modern geo-political landscape all happened, v or at least we're accelerated by the war. Obviously they didn't all happen exclusively in the few years of the war itself, however the few decades surrounding it we're certainly a tumultuous time.

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.


I think in terms of change, not all centuries are created equal. All things considered, I think the century from 1870-1970 saw more rapid change than any other in history (including 1920-2020). Planet money did a piece the other week about this idea and how economic growth seems to have slowed down never to return to its 20th century levels.

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.


Somewhere around her 85th birthday, my grandmother said to me, out of the blue:

"You know in school, in history class, 100 years seems like a long time. It's not really."


Change is slowing down, at least in developed countries. A person from the US of 2020 would fit in right in 1970, and be able to adapt to 1920, but be lost in 1870. A person from 1970 would adapt a little quicker to 1920, but be almost as lost as us in 1870.

But someone from 1870 could easily adapt to any time going back through the 17th century. I don't see how that's evidence of change slowing down, it's rapidly accelerating.

I would guess the parent comment wouldn’t disagree that it had sped up til about 1950 or 1970. But then it has slowed down since. I tend to agree, and that this whole personal computers, web apps, tracking stuff that’s obsessed over here just isn’t that big of deal compared to refrigeration and easy global transportation (to pick 2 from 1850-1950).

Easy global transport is much more recent than 1950. My grantparents came to Australia by boat in the 1950s, and didn't expect to see their family ever again. Nowadays the flight to Europe is hard, as far as contemporary transport goes, but many professionals could afford to visit annually without any great risk. That's a world changing difference.

This is the exact curve that is described by an academic in a recent episode of planet money https://pca.st/episode/d1397f9e-49f0-425c-8b10-3c4adb039f3f

I think there is certainly an effect of aging and your changing perspective. I have noticed similar shifts in my thoughts, even about shorter time spans. As a child I remember feeling that there was a huge chasm between the WWII era and the jet/space age. Now, I can contemplate my parents' early lives of roughly 1940-1985 versus my own of roughly 1975-2020.

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 was born in the seventies, and have looked at a lot of cartoons from the 1920s over the course of my life, what with ending up being in the animation industry for a while. Read a lot of comics from around then too as part of surveying the history of that medium, To me the 1920s always felt like the Remote Past.

I wonder what someone born now will feel about the 1920s once they are old enough to communicate their opinions.


My 8 year old nephew told me my techno playlist sounded like old people's music...

To my daughter "The Fat of the Land" album by The Prodigy is exactly as old as "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by The Beatles to me (number of years between respective album releases and our birth years).

The Fat of the Land is old sounding to me too and I was in my last year's of high school when it came out. I'm talking about Berlin big room techno that came out in the 10s.

I can't remember where i heard this from (it was a podcast) but it was on an economic theory that, if you exclude the internet & computer revolution, humans has not progressed that much in the past 100 years and that we may have entered a period of stagnant growth that may extend a century. Again, internet & computer revolution aside, realistically saying the last "human leap" was the invention of the combustion engine and prior to that, it was the discovery of electricity.

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.


Sure, excluding two of the biggest revolutions in the entire history of humanity, really makes it seem like we've been doing absolutely nothing. The impact of the semiconductor / integrated circuit can not be overstated. I don't know about the rest of you, but the Internet still seems to be completely magical to me.

Born in 1981, computers and the internet seem mundane to me.

But I thoroughly agree that they are the two (one?) biggest revolution in history.


Born the same year. You clearly haven’t imagined what’s possible. The internet hasn’t happened yet. We are a couple of experiments in. Maybe two of the ten core softwares have been written. The other 8 are just gleams in wild eyes.

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.


>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.


Not sure why, but the thought of most people not caring how their cars, or tech, or anything works made me quite sad. I think you're correct, but I'm constantly considering and reconsidering how all the things around us work, are made, can be better... It's all basically real magic but people can actually perform it.

> Oh, there is this new computer & internet thing but that's it.

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.


"instant-speed trans-Atlantic communication" started with the laying of the first trans-atlantic telegraph cables in the 1860's, and allowed machine to machine communications, messaging, shopping, there are even cases of people marrying after meeting over the telegraph. Radio was in use by the 1920's and a smartphone is basically a personal 2-way radio with pretensions!

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.


I was born in the 60s and I hold with the people who think we've been in relative stagnation, despite sometimes getting that living-in-the-future feeling. The 80s and 90s felt like progress was picking up after the 70s malaise, but not like the decades around 1900 as I've read about them. Since 2000ish it's like we went down the wrong trouser-leg of time.

You could make transatlantic calls in the 1920s. Sure, it was not that fast or capable as the internet, but the fundamental capability of connecting the world together has been around for a century or so. So it's not that strange as you try to make it to be.

You're being incredibly disingenuous; the very first transatlantic call was made in 1927. To say that the "fundamental capability" of information transmission was there is like saying that the fundamental capability of travel or illumination existed with the horse or candle. You can't simultaneously claim that the car's invention represents a dramatic paradigm shift while the Internet doesn't.

The future is not evenly distributed. That might work with 1920s New Yorkers, but for many other places round the world the change has been huge, dramatic, and somewhat traumatic. Heck, even if you take someone who isn't a white guy from 1920s New York, you'll find the world looks very different to them.

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.


My father born in Russian Grand Duchy of Finland in 1912, saw a car first time in 1925. It was little scary, but he realized it was basically "a small locomotive on rubber wheels". So it goes, you just rationalize, nothing is ever really amazing.

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.


Really there have also long been been a mix of "new" tech introduced in a niche and "roll out" of old tech infastructure to more places often aided by the previous making it cheaper or possible. Aquaducts and irrigation canals existed for millenia and some have had indoor plumbing of sorts ahead of schedule for quite a while. Rural electrification and indoor plumbing initatives often meant the difference. It took time for it to be more widespread from wherever it was the most convenient. Rural areas had party lines

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.


I agree that 1880-1915 was certainly a period of radical change, but aviation in 1915 was way less mature than you are suggesting, and would not become so for several decades.

The SPT Airboat Line [1] 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 [2] took 80+ flight hours over more than a month. Fast forward to 1933, transcontinental passenger flights took 20+ hours [3]. Nonstops finally became available in the late 40s and early 50s.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Petersburg%E2%80%93Tampa_A... [2] https://pioneersofflight.si.edu/content/first-american-trans... [3] http://www.boeing.com/news/frontiers/archive/2003/may/i_hist...


> Again, internet & computer revolution aside

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.


yep. npr ideacast and same thing that came to my mind. the conclusion was that we are in a slow progress period and there hasn't been a revolutionary invention like electricity or the combustion chamber. our productivity has been slowing down as well.

What you're really describing is the stasis of the last 60 years.

You could argue that the world has gotten into some sort of "stagnant" period, despite the technological advances.

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.


> Something that the rise of ubiquitous tech should have solved.

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.


> Something that the rise of ubiquitous tech should have solved.

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.




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