- The average life expectancy in the US was forty-seven years.
- Only 14 Percent of the homes in the US had a bathtub.
- Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone. A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost eleven dollars.
- There were only 8,000 cars in the US and only 144 miles of paved roads.
- The average wage in the US was 22 cents an hour.
- The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
- More than 95 percent of all births in the US took place at home.
- Ninety percent of all US physicians had no college education.
- Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen. Coffee cost fifteen cents a pound.
- Most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
- The five leading causes of death in the US were:
1) Pneumonia and influenza
3) Diarrhea (most likely from contaminated food)
4) Heart Disease
- The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30 people.
- Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn’t been invented.
- One in ten US adults couldn’t read or write. Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.
- Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were available over the counter at corner drugstores. According to one pharmacist, “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and the bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.”
- Eighteen percent of households in the US had at least one full-time servant or domestic.
- There were only about 230 reported murders in the entire US. [i]
So, given the religious fun & fancies of the last 10,000 years, not to mention the incredible innovations that have taken place in the last 100 years, the question we are facing on this postmodern/postChristian, text2text, family-redefining, iPoding, Wii-ing, touch-screen, Skyping globe is— Who are we? or— What are the definers of life and reality in a world (western culture, in this case) with so many value systems coexisting side by side? In other words, how do we make sense of all the changes of the last years of the twentieth century and the few we have played with so far in the twenty-first? That is what this chapter will address.
Let’s start with a metaphor from the early days of the wornderful world of computers. Can you say Ctrl+Alt+Del?[ii] You remember what that means, don’t you? (Or not.) It’s an old computer key combination for releasing a hard drive freeze up, a crash, a lock up…, call it what you will; personally, I remember it as *&@#$ frustrating. [Well, admit it. You feel it even if you don’t say it. It’s part of human nature to be frustrated by all things electronic.] We’ve all experienced that irritating situation where we are working along, just like we always do, and, for whatever reason, our computer’s hard drive hits a wall, beyond which it will not work. Ctrl+Alt+Del. You have to REBOOT! And if you haven’t bothered to save your work, or exit your application, or backup your work, well, bye-bye! Back to square one.
The point is that things don’t always work the way they are intended. [Perhaps Microsoft intends their operating systems to work like this, but probably not. (Why people buy Macs?] So much has changed in the world it requires a focused determination (or constant immersion) just to keep up. In the Western World (Europe, North America, parts of the Pacific Rim) the rate of change has accelerated to the point that we literally cannot keep up. For example, it used to be that if you ordered a computer from a distributor (DELL, GATEWAY, HP) by the time you paid it off it would be obsolete. Now, the joke goes (but not so far from the truth), that by the time it arrives it is obsolete. We are outpacing ourselves on a daily basis. The way we did something yesterday (made a phone call, turned on the TV, cooked dinner, “commuted” to work[iii]) is not the way we do it today.
In the mid-twentieth century products and goods were made to last; they could be counted on to be around for 5-10, even 15 years. They broke; you repaired them. Now it is use it & lose it. Material goods in the West are expendable; sometimes, so are the people. Company loyalty, holding onto your job, or having a single career for life have all been supplanted by upward mobility, “down-sizing,” farming jobs overseas, and multitalented entrepreneurialism (read “I want to do what I want to do.”).
For better or for worse, we have moved light-years past the modes of living at the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century. Imagine that world for a moment. Industrialization had taken over the cities, the family, and the father. Electricity was just becoming available to the masses. Most Americans used kerosene lamps for light. The automobile was crowding out the horse and buggy. Train travel was the rapid transit of the day; subways and trolleys were uniting workplace and home with greater efficiency. Back on the farm even the earliest mechanization of planting and harvesting was revolutionizing the agricultural process. The massive expansion of North America’s roads enabled farmers to get their produce to more markets faster; the railroad transported goods and produce to yet further a-field markets, expanding trade and creating a hunger for exotic goods and tastes. On a world scale, old tribal conflicts were replaced by a new sense of nationalism. Europe had solidified under national monarchs. And it seemed that those American states had finally made it as a world power, even after the bloodiest of Civil and territorial wars. The world seemed poised for the entry of the greatest century ever, the Twentieth Century! Most Americans were giddy with what they had been told the new century would bring— science and technology freeing ordinary people from the demands of physical labor. And what an exceptional a century it would be— both in greatness and in tragedy.
[ii] For you Mac/Apple Computer users, this is an unknown. You should be thankful you can utilize such a reliable CPU. Of course, having everything proprietary does limit one’s ability for diversification.
[iii] Commuting to work 1950-1960- take a bus. Commuting to work 1970- drive yourself. Commuting to work 1980- Car-pool it. Commuting to work 1990-2000- grab yourself a latte, sit down at your laptop, log-on… in your bunny slippers.