The older you are, the more you are aware of these truths, and you may not be entirely happy about that, because you may be having trouble keeping up with the changes.
Back in 1970, a guy named Alvin Toffler explained the problem in a book about these changes, “Future Shock.” His thesis was that, in the 20th century, changes in our world were coming faster than they ever had before. In fact, they were coming so fast, society was having difficulty adjusting, and so fast many people were falling behind, unable to adjust their lives to the changes that were coming.
Toffler was right about many things. The book predicted that we would find ourselves tied together electronically in a network. He didn’t call it the internet, but that’s essentially what he was talking about. He also predicted, among many other things, the decline of organized religion, the rise of home-schooling and the decline of manufacturing, along with the blue collar jobs that went with it — exactly the issues that we are dealing with today both as individuals and as a society.
Other predictions in the book were a bit premature if not totally unrealistic, such as routine space travel, but overall, today’s world looks a lot like the one Toffler pictured in his book, and not everyone is happy about it.
That’s understandable, because a change doesn’t work the same way for everyone. An industry may adopt technology that puts one guy out of work, but creates a job for someone else, to cite one example.
Another example is medical care. In recent years, great progress has been made in treating multiple myeloma, a change I am quite happy about. Without that progress, you quite likely would not be reading this column today. However, those advances have a high cost, a large part of which is paid by the Medicare system, and the longer I live, the more it will cost. That’s a problem our society hasn’t adjusted to yet.
Social changes in our society are also upsetting to many. Churches that were usually full in the 1950s when I was young have experienced declining attendance, and church activities that contributed to my growing up are less available now, if they exist at all. Civic organizations such as Kiwanis and Lions clubs are declining as well, along with lodges such as the Elks and the Masons. Americans have increasingly become disconnected from each other since 1970, just has Toffler predicted. As a result, our society has lost the services those organizations provided.
The family has been negatively impacted as well by changes in the society. I remember as a child that I had very few friends who weren’t living with both parents. Early in my career, though, when “Future Shock” predicted that the divorce rate would increase, I realized that the prediction was already coming true when I discovered how many of my students came from broken families.
OK, now, I think that’s enough gloom for one column. It’s true many of the negative changes forecast in Future Shock have come true. If you’re my age, you have watched that happen, and maybe you regret that things aren’t the way they used to be. Personally, though, I really wouldn’t want to return to the good old days. True, it was nice to head for church on Sunday knowing that many of your friends would be there as well — and while in today’s world your favorite baseball player might well be traded to another team halfway through the game you’re watching, you always knew when you woke up that Stan Musial was still a St. Louis Cardinal and Ernie Banks would always be a Chicago Cub.
But it wasn’t perfect. I remember a few years ago searching the morgue of the paper I worked for seeking items for a “looking backward” feature. I found a distressing number of people, usually men, in the small town of Basin who had died in their mid- to late 50s. Such early deaths are much more infrequent today. I found basketball tournaments that had been canceled due to epidemics of polio or other infectious diseases and other incidents that appeared to be common back then, but are rare today.
Things are better in so many ways than they were back then. Medicine has eliminated many illnesses helping us live longer and healthier today; cars and the roads we drive them on are safer; and the efforts of the government, manufacturers and the airline industry have made air travel even safer, just to name a few changes.
Today, though, I get the feeling that many Americans would like to slow, or even reverse some of the changes that have taken place in recent years, and some in our government seem to be listening to them.
But America has been built by people who changed the world by looking for better ways to do things. I hope that, in the end, we let those people have their way.