Utopias vs. Dystopias
One of the popular pastimes of many authors is the portrayal of the future. What will the U. S. be like in 2052?
OK. How different is today from 1952? Let's step into the typical home in 1952. What was that like?
The answer is that you'd feel entirely at home in our 1952 house. Everything would look about the same. The TV would have been black-and-white, although color television had just been introduced. The electric stove and the refrigerator would be white. You would have an automatic washer and an automatic dryer. (Ours was in the basement.) There would have been no microwave. You probably wouldn't have had a dishwasher, although they were available. Central air conditioning wasn't very common in homes in northern Ohio in 1952, and window air conditioners were just becoming popular. Otherwise, it would have been about the same. You basically wouldn't have been able to tell that you were back in 1952.
The forecasts at that time were that in the future, homes would be flat-roofed and mass-produced of steel and ceramics. People would scoot around in aircars in 2002. Rocket-planes would whisk us from New York to Los Angeles in an hour. Humanoid robots would have replaced humans in all vital functions, with humans bored out of their gourds because of lack of anything meaningful to do. All manual labor would be performed by robots.
So how about 1942?
In 1942, the principal change would have been the replacement of the TV by a radio. Heating in 1942 would have probably been by a coal convection furnace in the basement, unless you were lucky enough to have gas heat. You might have had an automatic washer (we did), but not an automatic dryer.
In 1932, it wouldn't have been much different. The automatic washer would have been replaced by an electric washing machine with a power wringer that required more intervention than an automatic washer.. We hung our clothes on the clothesline to dry. (Sometimes, they would freeze on the line in the winter.) Otherwise, it would have been about the same as the 1942 house. You'd have managed quite nicely in our 1932 house. You probably stay in vacation cabins today that approximate it.
How about cars?
In 1952, you would have had many of the amenities that are present on modern cars. Airbags didn't exist, and air conditioning was uncommon where we lived in Northern Ohio. Power steering and power brakes didn't exist, but they weren't much needed except when parking. Power windows and power door locks were found on luxury cars, but not on bottom-of-the-line automobiles. Seat belts didn't come standard, but you could have them installed. Some restaurants were air-conditioned.
Polaroid cameras were available, although not Xerox copiers. Aircraft were propeller-driven, with DC-3's, DeHavilland Viscounts, and DC-7's. The Ohio Turnpike, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and a few other superhighways were open, although the interstate highway system was still in its infancy.
In 1942, the only car with an automatic transmission was the Oldsmobile. Gearshift levers were on the steering columns.
In 1932, the Model A was still current, along with newer, more modern cars. It was the bottom of the Depression, and cost was a dominant factor. Cars basically had three gears, a heater, a defroster fan, windshield wipers, and not much more. Hand turn signals were the rule. Still, you could get where you wanted to go at 45 or 50 miles per hour. Theaters were air-conditioned.
Mass transportation in the 30's, 40's, and 50's was by bus, by train (for interurban travel), and by streetcar in the centers of some large cities. Greyhound and Trailways were the two major players in the bus business. I don't remember the buses being different than they are today, except that some of our buses now have restrooms in them.
Radios were everywhere. Bikes were standard transportation for kids. Ice-skating and roller-skating were popular with the romper crowd. Organized sports largely didn't occur until high school. At grammar-school ages, it was touch football in Eugene McCoy's side yard.
The big developments here have been devices like home computers, copiers, scanners, digital cameras, cordless phones, cell phones, VCR's, pocket MP3 players, HDTV, and one of these days, HDTV. Further developments, like wall-size, 3-D TV, videophones, virtual reality equipment (including smell-a-vision), and have yet to materialize.
Computers and the Internet are the cornerstones of revolutionary changes in our lifestyles. They are opening up the world to us through the windows of our computer screens. Search engines have the effect of amplifying our research capabilities, as well as enormously expanding our knowledge bases.
All the above changes are changes in ambient technology rather than changes in attitudes and lifestyles. How have these changed over the decades?
Perhaps the biggest change over the past 70 years is women's lib.
From 1919 until she and Dad married in 1927, Mother was employed as a secretary in Cleveland, Ohio, working part of the time for Edward Blythen, who later became the mayor of Cleveland. She thought highly of her bosses, and if anyone ever "came onto" her, we children never heard about it. After that, she didn't work outside the home until 1945, when she began substituting in Dad's office. Within two years, she was working full-time again, and this continued until 1967, when she retired at 66.
Two of my aunts were school teachers... all typical occupations for twentieth century women... until 1970.
The women in my grandmother's generation stayed home all their lives if circumstances permitted--i. e., as long as their husbands could support them.
The women in Mother's generation married, stayed home with the children until the children were in high school, and then returned to work, eventually earning a small retirement income. They tended to remain married "till death do us part", although that wasn't always possible.
My deceased wife, Ruth, was extremely capable, but chose to remain home rearing our children. When our daughter went off to college, Ruth worked as an R. N. for three-and-a-half years, but quit when her cancer appeared in 1981
The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same
All in all, it hasn't changed that much in 70 years. Why not? because we don't want things to change that much. Although we embrace the new, we also cling to the old. Mother's furniture and furnishings in 1932 would fit perfectly in our town house today. An in fact, Aunt Florence' beautiful bedroom suite from the 30's adorns our guest-bedroom (and is some of the prettiest furniture in our house)
And so it will be in the future. Today's dime store items will become tomorrow's collectibles. Furniture will be handed down from mother to daughter to grace daughter's living room in 2052. It will be done this way because this is the way we want it. This is how we retain the intangibles that are precious to us. Such old relics are pieces of our younger lives.
Back in the 70's, I used to marvel at the fact that our interstate highways would look essentially the same in the year 2000. After all, the Pennsylvania Turnpike looks the same as it did when we drove over it 60+ years ago. And the Ohio Turnpike looks the same as it did 50 years ago. In 2052, you'll drive down the same roads you're driving now, stopping at Cracker Barrels to eat. Hopefully, our National Parks will look as unspoiled and timeless as they do today.
The future won't change beyond recognition because we don't want it to, and we'll continue expressing that set of nostalgic preferences with our wallets.
Don't fear the future. It won't be that much different from the present.
When I tell you this, you need to realize that, 50 0r 60 years ago, I would have told you that the world was going to change enormously over the next 50 years. We'd have colonies on the moon and on Mars, and we'd be flitting around in aircars. You're not hearing this forecast from a conservative. You're hearing it from someone who was a flaming radical!
The breakdown of the nuclear family
Focus on children
Women in the workforce.
Sex more restrained then
College has expanded
Rising standard of living.
Population growth has slowed from 2% per annum to 1% per annum.
Life expectancies have risen somewhat.
In 1952, many women attended college to get their Mrs. Degrees.