Monday, May 3, 2010

Times of Change

Have you stopped lately and considered what amazing times we live in? I’m talking about our material culture; our technology. When’s the last time you really gave it some deep thought?

If you go back to the beginnings of recorded human history, which we cannot reliable extend further then about 2000 BC (I would place Noah’s flood in the 3000 to 5000 BC range, certainly no further back then 8000BC +/-), you will find a world much like the world that would exist for thousands of years afterwards. Let’s take Hammurabi’s Babylon, circa 1800 BC, or thereabouts. In Hammurabi’s Babylon, people heat their homes, cook their meals, and light their nights with fire. They walk and ride horses to get around. Cargo is moved by wagon or by ship. And the ships are moved by the wind or by muscles. War is fought face-to-face, with weapons of bronze.

Fast forward almost 2000 years, to 334 BC when Alexander the Great overthrows the mighty Persian Empire. Other than a few language issues, a man from Hammurabi’s Babylon would pretty much be right at home in the world of Alexander’s Macedonian Empire. People still heat their homes, cook their meals, and light their nights with fire. They walk and ride horses to get around. Cargo is moved by wagon or by ship. And the ships are moved by the wind or by muscles. “Hey,” our fictitious Babylonian time-traveler might say, “your iron is a bit better then my bronze, where can I get some?”

Continue our fast forward journey through time, and we see that, through the Roman times, the Dark Ages, the High Middle Ages, even into the Renaissance, technology remains pretty much the same. Let’s have out time traveling Babylonian land in Colonial Williamsburg in the 1750s, almost 4000 years from when he began. What does he find? People still heat their homes, cook their meals, and light their nights with fire. They walk and ride horses to get around. Cargo is moved by wagon or by ship. And the ships are moved by the wind or by muscles. And, “Hey, those muskets are kind of neat! Where can I get one?” (I’m not saying that gunpowder had not already changed warfare, but the sword was still a viable weapon on the battlefield. And, let’s face it; a musket in the 1750’s was mostly just a one-shot spear…)

But now look at the 260 years since 1750. Steam engines provided power to ships, trains, and vast factories. The automobile, the airplane, even spaceships. We’ve gone from muskets to B-2 Bombers armed with nuclear bombs that can wipe out entire cities in one pop. Our Babylonian time traveler stayed in a mostly recognizable world for 4000 years, but a guy born just 100 years ago would be lost today. He’d have seen automobiles and airplanes by 1910, but you set him down on the south side of LAX by the freeway and his brain would flip out!

I’m old enough to remember life when there were only 3 television channels. Now, I’m not so old as to remember life before television, that is my parents’ generation, but I’ve been around for a while. Who knows how many channels are in existence, now. More than any of us want to watch, I’d wager.

The first computer I ever worked on had 8 kilobytes of RAM. The year was 1980, and I was able to take computer science in high school. And our school had four computers! Wow! I remember telling my Dad that one day computers would be like televisions & most every house would have one & that they’d all be hooked together. He scoffed and said that he’d never own one; yet, within 3 years, he had bought one for Mom to use keeping the books for his construction company. (It was an IBM AT, and had a 1 megabyte hard drive. I told Mom that hard drive was so big that she’d never fill it up…)

What’s the point in all this? Am I leading up to some deep theological zinger? No, not really. Just taking a little time to be amazed at the world we live in & wondering what new & wondrous things tomorrow will be bringing. (Me? I still want my flying car!)

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Fred Butler said...

I am not so sure about that flying car thing. It may not be the wisest thing to let just "anybody" get one of those. Sure, it would be great to tool around over LA traffic in one, or maybe I could take the family to Arkansas more to grandma, but I say that as someone who has never received a traffic ticket or been in an accident.

But, honestly, if Scotty Johnson had one when I was in high school, he would have destroyed all kinds of property and killed a whole lot of people by now.

Rabbit said...

Just last evening my husband and I were talking about how, 8 years ago in our home in Calif, we were on the cutting edge with a cable modem, a VCR with automatic rewind, and a flip phone.

The Squirrel said...


I know exactly what you mean. I've seen drivers do so many stupid things with only two dimensions to play with...


Mrs Squirrel and I were just looking at the wracks of VHS tapes in our back bedroom that we haven't watched in years. I don't think we've had a VCR in at least 5 years.

And my Dad, due to his business, actually had a pre-cell-phone radio phone in his truck.

Funny story: We used to always laugh at movies and TV shows when some mob boss used his car phone in the back of his limo to order a hit or plan a crime. Those 1970's car phones were totally unsecured & unscrambles. Anyone on the same phone service could listen in on your conversations. In fact, you had to hit the monitor button to make sure nobody else was making a call before you could dial yours. They were radio-based party lines!


zostay said...

Yeah, I hear what you're saying, but the future is still a total disappointment. In elementary school I was led to believe I'd have my own personal assistant robot, flying car, and be able to take vacations on Mars by now. Here it is, the future, 2010(!), and the only robot-ish thing in my house is my printer (which stinks as robots go), my car is most certainly not able to fly (though, I still pretend from time to time), and not only can I not take trips to Mars for vacation, but I have to submit to a strip search just to travel to Pittsburgh from Kansas City taking all the fun out of flying.

Frank Turk admonished me today not to be a cry-baby, so I'll try to be happy with the future I have.