Last week, I took a look at some of the sci-fi gadgets, discoveries and trends that are propelling us into a sci-fi, and why they are more disappointing (and in some cases frightening) than I hoped they would be.
Today I’m taking a deep dive in the opposite directory, remembering my past, and thinking about some of the things we have left behind.
When I was a kid, there were basically three ways to listen to music. Radio, record album, and cassette tape (okay, 8-track was a thing too, but it was already fading by the time I arrived on the scene). There was no way to carry your music with you, to listen to what you wanted on the fly.
When the Walkman was introduced in 1979, it changed everything. All of a sudden, you could take your music with you, and listen to it whenever you wanted–or at least until you played it so many times that you wore the cassette tape out. You still had to buy (or record) everything you wanted to hear, but it was an early harbinger for the freedoms we enjoy today via streaming services for music, movies and TV shows.
And speaking of movies… I was also a kid when VHS tapes were first released (and Betamax, but that’s a whole ‘nuther story). Movies would hit the theaters, and then (eventually) come to VHS, two, three, four, even six years after their theatrical release. If you were lucky, you could catch it before then on one of the THREE major TV channels – NBC, CBS or ABC – with commercials.
And remember when those TVs only had 13 channels?
One of the things I remember about that time – before Newt Gingrich, before Bill Clinton’s infamous escapades, and way before our 45th president – was that you could disagree with someone and still have a conversation. I had friends who were democrats and friends who were republicans, and sure, sometimes I thought my GOP friends were off their rockers.
But I didn’t hate them. I even admired the fact that having competing points of view often meant that we reached a compromise to get something done that had good parts from both sides.
That seems like such a long time ago now.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that everything was great in the 1970’s and 80’s – gays and lesbians were still demonized. Racism flourished, even if it was often less blatant than in decades before. Transgender folks (there were two I had heard of) were hardly ever talked about, and when they were, it was almost always negative. No one had ever heard of non-binary folks, or intersex folks, or (seemingly) even bi folks, who were often told they had to pick a side.
And of course, the eighties were the Reagan Years, and the AIDS years too.
Still, it feels like life was simpler then.
In our inexorable march toward progress, our lives have become more and more complicated. We’ve traded 9-5 jobs with benefits for the gig economy where we all scramble to eke out a living doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
The $10000 that would have covered my entire four years of college barely pays for a semester now, and we are saddling our young graduates with so much debt they may never be able to buy a home of their own.
And the world at our fingertips that the internet promised has become a never-ending flood of information that pours into our minds, contaminated with rage and bile, keeping us always in fight or flight mode, fear of missing out pushing us to keep consuming the tide.
Is this really the future we wanted?
One day in my junior year, I rode my bike from my Dad’s house to a place high in the foothills overlooking Rancho Cucamonga, a bedroom community outside of Los Angeles in Southern California.
I parked my bike by the side of the road and sat next to the small culvert that tumbled down the hill between the pavement and the wall that surrounded yet another housing development.
It was peaceful and quiet. At that moment, I had absolutely no responsibilities – no place to be, nothing that needed to be done. Just me and the trickle of water, the cool breeze on my cheeks, and the world spread out below me.
I recognized that moment as an iconic one, a space carved out of the rush of life and time that would stick with me for the rest of my life.
And I wonder if that’s not what we have lost, in this mad rush to disrupt everything instead of creating something new.
The ability to disengage from it all, to focus on something other than doom-scrolling our social media feeds, on the bad news about politics and climate change and gun violence and all the other terrible things going on in our world.
If by being so connected to everything, all the time, we might have lost our connection to the things that matter most.
So when I finish writing this, I’m going to step outside and take a deep breath of the cold, clean air that yesterday’s thunderstorm left in its wake, and feel the warm caress of the sun on my cheeks. And I will try to remember, for just a moment, what those stolen moments felt like. Before the internet, before the yawning chasm of the partisan divide, before life became such a complicated mess.
And maybe I’ll find a way to bring a little of that back inside with me.
What have you left behind or lost, in the rush to the modern world?