My Life My Times
As the calendar turns the pages of time to a new year, it's a good time to put one's life into perspective. I often think about how my life intersects with history and I always conclude that I'm lucky to have been born when I was. What would life had been like if I was born in the 1800s, 1700s, or earlier? I make my living sitting in front of light box and pressing little buttons all day. There was no such profession in past centuries. No doubt I would have been a store clerk or an entrepreneur of some sort, but I count myself lucky to have been born at a time when the electronic age was blossoming and got to participate in the growth of the digital age.
My life, which hopefully is only midway through the third quarter, has seen a history unfold that would amaze everyone of prior centuries. At a young age I crossed the Atlantic without fear, but in the lap of luxury as a three year old on the Queen Mary. Today the Queen Mary is a museum to the accomplishment of worldwide travel in luxury. I've traveled around the world and while there are many places I haven't been, I feel privileged to experience what citizens from prior centuries were lucky to read about. The idea that you could step into a sealed metal tube and emerge in a new land still thrills me.
As a young child I remember watching man set foot on the moon. The memory is burned into my brain and it's one I revisit often. The idea that after thousands of years of evolution man found a way to leave the planet takes the popular escape room challenges to an amazing new level. And it happened in my lifetime.
I've lived through four presidential impeachments (not sure that's good or bad). I've shaken hands with a Vice President and photographed a two Presidents and a Queen. I've seen some of the most iconic bands that define classic rock and roll sometimes from the vantage point of having my elbows on the stage.
But I think I feel most privileged to have grown up at a time of a digital explosion. As a kid, trying to hear a song I was crazy about required either a massive time investment or enough money to afford a record. Today I can simply speak out loud and hear virtually any song I fancy any time I fancy it. And this happened in my lifetime.
I carry a block of electronics in my pocket the size of a large rock that connects me to the world. This electronic Swiss-army knife can capture the sights and sounds of my life, share it with others and give me access to the sites and sounds of the full planet. Information in the 1700s traveled at the speed of walking (4 miles per hour at a brisk pace) and now it travels around the globe at the speed of light. I know what's happening and I can access man's full compilation of intelligence using a single index finger. And this happened in my lifetime.
I have the ability (but can't image actually doing it) to record every moment of my life. I can publish this for the world to see and take responsibility for capturing and preserving my own history.
The quality of life is really measured in small little improvements and I've seen many.
I remember a day when changing the channel required getting up and walking to the TV. The channel changer made my life easier and probably a little fatter.
As a young boy most of my TV was in black and white. I love black and white, but seeing the world in color means the TV brought the real world into my life.
Watching TV used to be a sport that required dancing with an antenna to get a sharp picture that was never quite sharp enough. Today the picture has more detail and is always perfect. This is something I actually never stop appreciating.
The automobile was in full swing long before I was born, but it got easier in my lifetime. Things like intermittent windshield wipers, cruise control, assisted steering and air conditioning made travel luxurious. Imagine the conversation with my ancestors from past centuries if I told them that virtually every adult owned a car and could travel anywhere in the country with ease. These were the ancestors who may have risked everything to cross the country in a wagon with horses, mountains and no roads.
Before I was born the innovation was being able to put a radio in the car. That must have been a big deal. I had an 8-track tape that played one track and sadly played a second track in the background at the same time. Record scratches, tangled tape and the massive 8-track tapes are all gone replaced with audio perfection.
Before computers there were calculators that replaced mechanical adding machines and even the abacus. I remember spending a day trying to stump my father's first calculator that was the size of a small typewriter, plugged in and cost more than one hundred dollars. The calculator never got the results wrong and never took more than an instant to produce an answer.
I was introduced to spreadsheets when spreadsheets were introduced to the world and I remember thinking back to centuries of bookkeepers that struggled with a paper and pencil and little else to manage finances. The spreadsheet is the equivalent of a moon shot for bookkeepers.
My youth included a typing class and it was something I was good at. I got a job typing and would earn extra money in college typing for other people. Typing made me a better writer because it was easy for me to write multiple drafts. I wasn't perfect and had a close relationship with white out or liquid paper. A product that has virtually no use today. I saw word processors the size of a refrigerator before graduating to a laptop that easily fits in a backpack.
I remember how difficult it was to get cash. I was born before cash machines at a time when travelers checks were often required first step toward getting cash. I remember waiting for what seemed like hours at a checkout stand as people wrote checks for their groceries and then the cashier had to write down the numbers from two forms of ID. Today my bank card can go into an ATM anywhere in the world and spit out cash. Better yet my phone can transfer funds without having to touch a thing.
Again, it's the small things that matter. Going to the movies used to require going early enough to find a seat and then I was subjected to twenty minutes of advertisements. Today (if we ever get to back to the movies), I can reserve a seat on my phone and walk in moments before the film starts to find my saved seat.
I'm thankful for the scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs that built the foundation of knowledge and experience long before I was born to make my life one that filled my brain with information, filled my brain with entertainment and gave me access to the planets' wonders.
January 23, 2021
© Greg Harris, 2021
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