Half a Century

The object at hand is a memento of my first breath, 600 months ago. Shown here are a few distinctive items from a pile my mother had collected and stashed away, and I discovered after her death.

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I was born on the day of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Back then there were no weather satellites, no weather radar, no mobile phones, nor email. “Cable” meant sending a telegram, a less expensive and more reliable alternative than a long distance phone call. A letter cost 4¢ by ground, and air mail was extra. Here are congratulations from Germany, Israel and New York. And I have no idea if this birth certificate would be official enough to satisfy doubters.

The reverse of the Pet Milk stork card is revealing of the era when men were birthday bystanders:

“Congratulations, Dad!
To see your baby, please present this souvenir card at the nursery window.
Hold card against window so nursery nurse can see the name.
Please return card to mother’s bedside.”

But my purpose in this post is to observe some things of interest in the past half century.

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I was too young to notice when the first man went into space, but I stayed up late to watch the live broadcast of Armstrong stepping down from the Lunar Module. Billionaires can now buy a ride into space, but few bother. America has apparently passed the baton to Europe, Japan, and China as the rulers of space.

I remember fallout drills, and actually saw “Duck and Cover” in school. Everyone worried about radiation on a daily basis, but hadn’t heard of cholesterol. Guess which one kills 1,000 times as many people as the other?

One of my teachers was so used to the original Pledge of Allegiance that she would occasionally leave out the “Under God” that had recently been inserted in the middle of “One Nation Indivisible” when we did the daily ritual. She also showed us the proper way to stand from when she was in school. See The Changing Recipe of Pleasure Lesion Stew for a surprising picture.

In the last five decades organ transplants went from science fiction, to an abomination against God that should be outlawed, to a rare and expensive major surgery, to a fairly common procedure that anyone might expect. Drivers licenses (at least in my state) have a donor form. Mine is signed. Is yours?

As I grew up, vacuum tubes gave way to transistors and then integrated circuits. Several technological inventions in the last half century have changed society. I mean, really altered the ways in which people interact.

  • The Pill made it possible for women to have a career and social life without either a husband or celibacy, so now women are almost half of the workforce. It also changed the point of dating. Girls no longer consider finding a husband their only goal, and mostly not their primary one.
  • The rapidly evolving WWWeb allows people to  interact in many new ways for both business and social purposes. One minor sign: Video phones and teleconferencing are no longer solely toys of millionaires and super-geeks. It is now fairly common for people to work from home.
  • Cell phones mean that no one has to make social plans in advance, nor wait by a phone. The world is un-tethered! And you can’t get away from the office!
  • Between the web and cell phones, privacy is dying. This is inevitable. As new generations grow up with ubiquitous communication, everything they think and do is broadcast and stored. Much like after the Kinsey Reports, as everyone begins to notice how many others share their own private thoughts and behaviors, guilt will recede.
  • The web has also killed the publishing and copyright models of the 16th through 20th centuries, in much the same way that Gutenberg changed the previous setup. Music, text, and video is now cheaper to share than gum. There is still a crying need for editors and librarians, to polish and organize the flood of new and traditional media. This change is ongoing, and we still don’t know how it will settle out. But historians will mark its genesis in my lifetime.
  • Containerization (that was just taking hold in my childhood) now makes goods from the far side of the world price competitive with local products. “Imported” now rarely means rare or posh. And the improved communications infrastructure allows many jobs to be moved around the world to find cheaper labor. It is truly becoming a unified world economy.

Some things have not changed much during my life.

  • Personally owned motor cars are still the major influence in the planning of transportation and towns. Pubic transit infrastructure in most cities has declined as a result. But it shows signs of returning in the next half century as the cost of extracting fuel rises.
  • The price of a gallon of gas is still about half the cost of a movie ticket and about the same as a fast food meal. No change over the ten presidential administrations that I’ve experienced.
  • Men still wear pants, although now women also do, without undue notice.
  • People still mostly work 40 hour weeks, although now it takes two working adults to support most households.
  • People used to get their news from the newspaper with whose editorial slant they least disagreed. Now they get their news from the video and web columnists with whom they almost perfectly agree. Maybe this belongs in the “changed” section. Human nature hasn’t changed, but the media are much better positioned to pander to it.

So a half century gives me some personal perspective from which to view history and humanity. Or at least the illusion that I have it.

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1 Response to “Half a Century”


  1. 1 kim jennings April 17, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Amen to that.


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