Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Why "30 years ago" might seem different today than it did in the 70s and 80s

I will happily embrace any opportunity to post a photo of the cast of "Happy Days."

There are lots of memes floating around designed to make you feel old.

You know what I'm talking about. They'll say something like, "Someone just mentioned '30 years ago' and my mind went, 'Ah yes, the 70s!' But they meant 1994 and now I have to go lay down."

Or there's one that mentions the fact that if the show "Happy Days" were made today, it would be set in 2004 (since the show came out in 1974 and was initially set in the mid-1950s).

The underlying premise seems to be that things changed a lot more between, say, 1950 and 1980, than they have from the mid-90s to the present day.

Is that true?

I'm going to say yes and no.

We'll start with the "no." The Internet alone is a valid argument against 1994 being more similar to 2024 than 1950 was to 1980. The digital revolution has changed how most of us live our daily lives. We shop differently than we did in the 90s, we consume our entertainment differently, we gain information differently, and we communicate differently.

In 1994 I had a landline phone that wasn't that remarkably different from the phones with which I grew up in 1970s and 80s. There was a long line of continuity there.

In short, the Internet has changed everything, and it isn't the only thing about life that has radically transformed in the years since my now-30-year-old daughter was born.

On the other hand, consider this: If you were to walk outside right now and just look around at the cars driving past you, they're not that much different from the vehicles you would have seen in 1994. There are key differences, of course, but I would argue that cars haven't changed as much in the last 30 years as they did in the three decades between 1950 and 1980.

In fact, I think the general sights and sounds of day-to-day life in 2024 are much more similar to those of 1994 than what you would get in a similar comparison between 1950 and 1980.

Again, there are individual differences that are striking. But overall, our external environment over the last 30 years has changed less than it did in the previous 30-40 years.

If that makes sense.

My theory around the apparent pace of change for those of us in our 40s, 50s and 60s is this: We lived through the 1980s and 90s. Those years don't seem that far away, and they're still very familiar to us. So we don't perceive a particularly striking difference between now and then.

But the 1950s? We didn't live through those years. We only know them from what our parents told us and from what we read and hear about them. They are less real and less tangible for us, and therefore they are seemingly much more different from the 80s than the 90s are to us now.

Again, if that makes sense.

All of which is to say that, as with so many things in life, it's a matter of perspective. It comes down to your own personal circumstances: age, experience, and generally how much attention you pay to the world around you.

I will say this, though: I really do have to lay down sometimes when I think about 1994 (which was just yesterday, as far as I'm concerned) being 30 years ago. That stings a little.

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