How the World has Changed Since 1999
Folks, I don’t often write much about the changes I’ve seen during my lifetime . . . in fact, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time I’ve ever written about this particular subject before. Yet it came to mind because yesterday would’ve been my Grandma’s 103rd birthday, had she lived . . . as she died in 1999, I thought I’d talk about what I’ve seen happen in the world since then, the good and the bad alike, and reflect on what my Grandma might’ve thought about it all.
First, Grandma would’ve been utterly horrified by 9/11. She’d have been shocked that anyone had been able to do something like that on American soil. She’d have been livid that our various “alphabet agencies” (the NSA, the FBI, the CIA, etc.) all got caught with their pants down.
But she’d also have seen the Patriot Act as an overreaction. She’d have cheered our Wisconsin Senator, Russ Feingold (a D), for his principled opposition — the only Senator to oppose it, I might add — but she’d have wondered what the world was coming to when the United States had to start spying on its own citizens in a way that could no longer be hidden or swept under the rug as a “necessary evil,” instead being brought out into the sunlight as something that was “right and proper,” something that every right-thinking American should want in order to prevent more terrorism.
The lack of privacy would be something that deeply upset my Grandma, who was a very private person. That the government has admitted to spying on its own citizens (albeit supposedly in a limited way) through the Patriot Act and now through the revelations caused by NSA leaker Edward Snowden would be quite distasteful to her. But that there are so many cameras on street corners, at street lights, that everyone and his brother seems to have a cell phone complete with camera available to take pictures at a moment’s notice . . . that the police, in many states, now use computers to run license plates of everyone on the road, including those who’ve done nothing wrong whatsoever, or worse, tape people’s license plates as their cars are sitting in their own driveways, would weigh heavily on her heart, too.
I think she’d wonder, “What have we given up in order to use all this high-tech stuff? And can we ever get our privacy back after all this?”
One positive thing that’s changed that my Grandma would probably have appreciated is the rise of e-books (and the technology to read them), as putting type in bold face and larger fonts would’ve been something that greatly appealed to her. She’d have been pleased about people reading anything, as she believed fervently in the power of reading in order to help anyone educate him or herself in order to do whatever we want to do. And she’d probably think that this was one aspect where technology had greatly improved life for the better . . . or at least had the capacity to do so.
Grandma would’ve been quite bemused by the ascent of cellular phones, which were around in 1999 but in a much less usable fashion. She’d have wondered a whole lot about this phenomenon of “texting,” which wouldn’t have made any sense to her. (She understood e-mail as a type of telegraphy, which makes as much sense as anything else to someone born in 1910. And she saw computers as helpful to businesses, but something that had no practical value to herself or her family.) She’d have wondered even more about the people who get behind the wheel of a car but cannot keep themselves from texting while driving.
The way people go on and on when talking on their cell phones, as if their conversations were in a private room rather than, say, in the middle of a Wal-mart would be distressing to her also. She used to watch the Jerry Springer show, and she’d tell me all the time that people seemed to have lost their moorings — a different way to say that people didn’t seem to know where their boundaries should start, or end. Well, half the conversations I’ve unwittingly overheard in the grocery store, or in the pharmacy, or on the street corner make me blush . . . and though Grandma might not have blushed the same way I do when I hear such things, she’d definitely have wanted to give the person (or people) using the cell phone a piece of her mind.
Grandma would not have understood Twitter, Facebook, or much about instant messaging. (I tried to explain to her about IMs before she died.) She probably would’ve accepted something like Skype as video conferencing has been around for at least the past forty years (though it used to be far rarer and quite a bit more expensive than it is now), but she’d never have used it herself.
The plethora of people sending digital pictures to all and sundry would have made her shake her head, too. (I can hear her now. “Whatever happened to privacy? Don’t these people care that everyone else knows all their business?”)
And this phenomenon where people seem to have to record any event, whether it’s a wedding, a funeral, a baseball game, or the running of the bulls in Pamplona, from all angles and from every viewpoint possible . . . well, let’s just say she definitely wouldn’t have understand that, either.
In other words, most of what has changed since 1999 has to do with technology. But some of what’s changed has to do with mindset. And while technology will come and go, mindsets usually do not change very often, which is why the changes that I’ve described would be extremely distressing to her.
How we get back to a mindset that says to the world, in essence, “Yes, I’m out here. Yes, I have a Web presence. But no, I’m not going to share everything with you. Sorry, my private life is none of your business” is something that I will continue to ponder.
Why? Well, I look at it this way . . . my Grandma was no fool. She believed strongly that a person had a right to keep her own counsel and that whatever you shared with her should go no further.
A life where everyone shared everything with everyone, all the time, would be looked at in horror by my Grandma as a specific type of Hell.
And as we get closer to such a society with every new technological gadget that comes down the pike (such as that Google “everywhere” headset, which made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever as people shouldn’t be walking and be on the Internet at the same time as it’s too dangerous to do both for 99.9% of the population), I can’t say that I disagree.