Editorial February 2013
The More Things Change …
Change is a funny thing. Sometimes it creeps up on you, as when you abruptly realize that the face you’ve been staring at in the mirror all these years isn’t as young as it used to be. The changes have been occurring all along, of course. It’s the belated recognition that generates the resulting shock.
In other cases, change seems to arrive out of the blue. One day you don’t own a smart phone. And then you do, and suddenly you’re checking your e-mail every five minutes. While predictable, such behavioral changes are often quite sudden, occurring within a very short time following the acquisition of the latest new gadget.
Given today’s rapid advances in technology, it is tempting to see ourselves as uniquely bedeviled by change in comparison with previous generations. And while I often share this perception, it’s not clear to me that it’s actually true. Consider, for example, my father, who, born in 1907, passed away in early 1999. Here is a short, very selective list of some of the major events he experienced in his 91 years:
- World War I
- Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic
- The Great Depression
- World War II
- The development of nuclear weapons
- A transportation revolution during which the horse gave way to automobiles, buses, trucks, trains, airplanes, and spacecraft
- The first satellites and manned space missions
- The invention and popularization of the personal computer
- The emergence of the Internet
On those days when I’m feeling totally swamped by change, I sometimes force myself to stop, take a few minutes, and imagine what it would have been like to grow up in a world in which the family car was probably a horse; a world without phones, movies, airplanes, credit cards, refrigerators, or electricity; a world before radio, before television, before photocopiers, and long before personal computers. What would that have been like? And having grown up in that world, what would it feel like to walk down the street with my iPhone?
I don’t actually know, and I have no way of knowing. My Dad, for his part, shed little light on the topic on those few occasions when we discussed such things. A complicated man in some respects—like many of us—his world view was simple. The key to success, as he understood it, was straightforward. You got up in the morning, you went to work, and you did the things you needed to do to get through your day. You plowed snow in the winter, planted the big garden in the back field in the spring, baled hay in the summer, and harvested and split firewood in the fall. The years rolled by and those newfangled inventions kept coming, but the seasonal calendar stayed pretty much the same.
I am not my Dad, and my world is a bit more complicated than his, or at least it feels that way to me. But there is, I’ve found, something to be said for taking the time to stop and consider how my problems might look from his perspective. And somehow, things always look better when I do.