TIME BEFORE TIME
Culture changes perceptibly even over just a few years, like children and language - things are quickly no longer square or groovy and many of us remember a lush, no-Internet world - but the change seems to be accelerating lately, now that I've lived long enough to have had my childhood seem much nearer the stone age.
That's how prehistoric the present era feels now for a child of the 1940s, a time that at the time was current to the max with essentials like marbles, yo-yos, mumbledy-peg, trolley cars, typewriters, mimeos and carbon paper, clickety-clickety standup phones with five-digit phone numbers, young men in fedoras, grandpas in derbys and high-lace shoes, women in odd-feathered hats and long dresses; there was penmanship with steel pens dipped in school inkwells with slate tops, there were stenographers, dictaphones, telegraph wires all the way across the nation and teletype internationally, horse-drawn wagons delivering milk, bread and ice, there was no tv, "plastic" was a new word, and the old styles, language (Don't say "ain't"!), culture and mores, social borders-- racism, sexism, everywhere, everyone smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, heavy social drinking, normal obesity, litter was the norm, penny candy, cigars, spittoons, the list runs on like time...
I was prompted to recherche those temps perdu when I saw in a film clip an old-school British journalist with all the attendant perceptions, blinkers, mindsets and perspectives, back in the mod 1960s asking the young and sassy, off-the-wall Bob Dylan a rhetorically baroque question, the kind of question that even then was so Edwardianly orotund and sesquipedalianly circumlocutory that when confronted with it, or rather wrapped in it, Dylan uncharacteristically became so sympathetic to the asker as to not be his usual journosassy self, and as I listened to the question unfold I too felt sympathy for that elder statesman of journalism, attempting to speak as though the past fitted perfectly into the right-nowness of his moment, he assuming that he could position this young musical upstart relative to the post-Victorian pantheon of marble-halled literary icons and empirical ideals, that he could understand in his horseback-telegraph-spittoon-historied way what was now going on around him like lightning on vinyl.
In his long professional life he himself had perhaps at last become his own ideal of the Edwardian journalist, hadn't felt the need to make any serious self-adjustments since then and here he was, speaking from the distant past to the distant present. I suppose I'm much the same by now, how can one tell as one rambles on...
There is always a special preserve for the youth of the day, but the changes since 1940 have been more radical than any before in history (atomic bomb!) (iPad!) and have caught many unprepared, like that senior journalist at the peak of his game, whose name might as well have been "Mr. Jones."
Used to be that small adjustments were enough-- a fancy new harness, a bigger bustle, the latest height in a beaver hat, or a new pair of spats to get one through a goodly period of modern living, but this acceleration is new to the cutting-edge elders; we must now adjust more quickly and to greater extremes than any of our foreparents ever had to. How does one adapt to warp speed from the penny-farthings of yesteryear?
I trust the mind, though; as it always has, it will find and learn new ways of keeping up with the new tools it has made, especially in the coming and coming young ones-- but this need for accelerated adaptation is becoming exponential, presenting a more interesting challenge than ever before to elderfolk, who no longer sit in armchairs crocheting or reading the local gazette while listening to the radio in the evening; now every day they dive headfirst into the global infosea, living Moore's Law. There's no shore to information now, which is as it should be, since there’s never been a shore to our hunger; we are, after all, living headlines.
A most exciting time to have such a lengthy past.