Not long ago, the artificial intelligence-powered software ChatGPT was introduced. “May you live in interesting times,” says a traditional Chinese curse. Contrary to the modern cliché, change is not “good,” but it can be. However, it’s the continuity in our lives that provides our identity. Change can be destructive of worthwhile traditions and social cohesion, just as it can give us longer, more fulfilling lives.
A recent blog by Tyler Cowan in “Marginal Revolution” got me thinking about this subject, a favorite of mine because I had a grandmother who lived from 1884 to 1987. Talk about living to see great change! Her children had farmed with horses and mules, after retirement she flew in jet planes to see her siblings in California.
Cowan mentioned seven revolutionary changes witnessed by the baby boomer generation, but that barely scratches the surface. I’d say at least 21 great changes have taken place during the lives of my generation. Some began earlier, but didn’t pick up speed until after WWII, others are just beginning. Every way we Americans live, think, interact and see ourselves is different than before our generation was born. I maintain, without too much overlap, this is a fair summary:
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The Interstate and jet air travel — geographic shrinkage.
Feminization and women’s equality — differences in every aspect of life.
Moon landing and the space race — satellites, miniaturization of electronics, world wide wireless communication.
Marshall Plan, the IMF, World Bank, NAFTA, and post WWII trade agreements — the world’s economic trade structure revised.
The U.N., NATO, SEATO, Warsaw Pact and other alliances — stabilization of the world political order.
Asia’s rise/Cheap consumer goods — In the developed world, the consumer is king. It picked up speed from Japan and South Korea, then shot through China and India.
Nuclear science — for good and bad.
TV and its cultural impact — It created America’s mass culture of the 1950s and ‘60s, then shattered it.
Vietnam War — distrust of the government.
Civil Rights movement — promising success punctuated by dispiriting failures.
Democratization of America’s primary elections — demise of competent, consensus-building leadership, and an avalanche of money.
Communism’s collapse — Since 1989 and the release of their secret archives, no serious person suggests communism as a reasonable form of government.
Core American ideal changes — the complete indulgence of freedom, the corrosion of equality.
Genetic science — fundamental to both medicine and the Green Revolution of Norman Borlaug.
Hubble, James Webb Telescope, and the physics of the universe — it changed the basic perceptions of our place in the universe beginning with its first trillionth of a trillionth of a second.
Internet — Since the 1990s, the way we network our daily conversations and information gathering is completely revised.
Decipherment of tens of thousands of texts from ancient empires — although the Rosetta Stone and cuneiform tablets were first deciphered 200 years ago, the translations in our lifetime truly show us in detail how we got here.
Non-sovereign entities as dangerous enemies — 9/11, hacking, vehicle-ramming attacks, and suicide vests routinely threaten civilization, our sense of safety, and daily life.
Smartphone — Since Motorola’s first model in 2007, the world is at your fingertips day and night.
Climate Change mostly made by man — no educated person now doubts this.
Large Language Models/AI — Impact still to be seen, but literature, articles and books will never be the same.
If one or two of these generalities just set you off, that’s fine. After 150 years, evolution is still argued about in coffee shops, but not in geology courses. People still join the Flat Earth Society, indulge in crazy political or cultural conspiracies, or enjoy theories of ancient aliens populating the earth, but they won’t win you a Nobel Prize.
A few of these may offend people’s political, religious and personal sensitivities, but it’s not a stretch to say that how we have dealt with impacts of these 21 items will provide much of the reckoning of our era. Without hoping to jinx my grandchildren, I can only say I hope they live in equally interesting times.
OWH Midlands Voices January 2023
Andi Curry Grubb writes, "State representatives have more control over our bodies than we do — for the first time in five decades."
Jim Cavanaugh and Hal Daub write, "Douglas County has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to accomplish a remarkably good achievement that could change the lives of people with mental health disabilities and their families across our community."
Nichole Turgeon writes, "As 2023’s National Mentoring Month closes, a shortage of volunteers continues to affect the operations of many nonprofits ..."
Omaha native Paul Critchlow reflects on the letters he wrote to his service board while serving in Vietnam.
Kiril Domuschiev writes, "Food insecurity and hunger emergencies already strain global food systems ... In Nebraska, 188,080 people face hunger, including 64,190 children."
John Garlock writes, "For far too long, both parties have been fiscally irresponsible. The only time we hear elected officials discuss the national debt is on the campaign trail."
Robert Nefsky writes, "On a per capita basis, Nebraska’s annual public investment in the arts and humanities currently averages about $1.25, which consistently ranks around 12th in the nation."
Rebecca S. Fahrlander writes, "During this lengthy pandemic, I have often reflected on how my diagnosis and experience with cancer many years ago has helped me cope."
David D. Begley writes that wind and solar energy is not in Nebraskans' best interests.
U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse writes, "America needs more normal people. More Nebraskans getting involved in civics to box out the most divisive voices in politics."
Henry W. Burke writes, "Omaha’s proposed streetcar system defies common sense."
Joseph Giitter writes, "Downtown and midtown could become a contiguous urban core where people live, work and shop without relying on an automobile."
Nathan Leach writes, Norris "believed elected officials should represent the interests of their constituents well before that of political parties."
Mike Johanns writes, "Maintaining the land itself through uses such as renewable energy ensures conservation of the farmland for future generations."
Rebecca Firestone writes, "Policymakers can protect the state by ensuring new legislation focuses on proven initiatives that empower hardworking Nebraskans."
Matt Blomstedt writes, "This winter, Congress has a chance to pass critical child nutrition program updates that would better take care of students and support our schools."