Is This the Dawning of the Age of . . . E-Quarius? Part 1 of 5

Part One — Part Two — Part Three — Part Four — Part Five

With apologies to the creators of “Hair,” which included the song “Aquarius.”

Advance warning: I won’t be arriving at any earth-shattering conclusions in this series of posts. Mostly I’m posing questions, to which I do not yet have the answer. I’ve been thinking about the following for some time, but ruminations kicked into gear over the past few days, in part because of a question I was asked recently, but also because of an essay by Peggy Noonan that ran a few days ago in the Wall Street Journal.

I’m not sure how coherent this rumination will be, but I want to go on record about the subject of whether we’re living at the dawn of a truly “new age” — or not. We won’t know, of course, for, oh, another 40 or 50 years — because no one living in the present can understand its historical significance until the present has become the past. It’s unlikely I’ll still be around in 50 years (although . . . who knows?) so I may never know the answer to my question. But that doesn’t stop me from asking it.

I’m a historian. I spend my time thinking about people and events from the past. I do history partly because, frankly, it’s fun. I love my work. But I also practice history because it suits my optimistic nature and my reverence for hope: If the past is different from the present, then we have the ability — the power — to make the future different from the present. (Think about it for a moment.)

As I’ve noted here many times before, historians take the Long View of the Big Picture. We’re less interested in what happened five weeks or five months ago, than what happened five decades ago.

This is a point that, for example, I keep making about alcohol sales: Sure, there’s lots of blather lately about beer sales declining. But I’ve been trying to put that trend in a larger perspective, to show how people’s drinking habits can be shaped by events that unfold over decades rather than months.

It’s a point I wish I could hammer into the heads of the “analysts” who jabber on a daily basis about stock market returns and what those returns say about “confidence” in our new president: Assessing BHO or the market from a weekly, monthly, or quarterly perspective is an exercise in futility. Think “long haul.” Think “long term.”

But this series of blog entries won’t be about the current economic crisis or beer. Rather, I was to consider a question that I’ve been pondering for the past few years:

Are we indeed standing at the beginning a of new age? Are we experiencing a shift in human affairs that is tectonic rather than superficial? Or is there really nothing new under the sun and what seems like a “new age” is just more of the same? More next time. (As always, I’m breaking long thoughts into manageable chunks because I know that at any given moment, most of us have 75 other things to do, read, or respond to.) (If this is a “new age,” brevity is its cornerstone.)

4 thoughts on “Is This the Dawning of the Age of . . . E-Quarius? Part 1 of 5

  1. I am considered a Generation Jones and spent time listening to life stories of how the Depression impacted every day living on those I loved. I regularly posed questions to older relatives asking, What societal or technological changes do you remember the most throughout your lifetime? The impact these changes had on their lives, amazes me.Curiously, when I try to “educate” my nephews (both under 20) to some changes I witnessed. Such as math class without a calculator or a rotary dial telephone or explain a party line, they look at me as if I am an alien.Curiously, this very same topic you posted has been part of lengthy ongoing discussions between my younger brother and I. We both believe the current state of affairs (both nationally and globally) will have lasting societal changes. A common thread in our discussion is, folks pre or post- Generation X have rarely been touched by someone who lived during the Depression, let alone WWII. I have been wondering if the New Society will be a blend of the society which emerged from WWII and the Depression. Only time will tell.It is interesting that BHO, is reaching back to FDR for insight.

  2. Susan, thanks for that observation. I agree that part of the impetus for a “new age” will be the emergence of several generations of people who a) don’t have generational knowledge of the Great Depression or WWII, AND b) people who are digital natives (rather than digital pioneers.)I fit into the category of having generational knowledge of the GD and WWII and being a digital pioneer. But I’m well aware that people under the age of, oh, 35?, don’t fit any of those categories.Tony, yes, I’ll be giving specific examples of the kinds of shifts I’m talking about in upcoming segments of the series. I always break these series down into small chunks because I know it’s hard for people to find the time to sit down and read one loooooooooooong entry at a sitting. So stay tuned!

  3. Great Depression Cooking with Clara is currently circulating along the superhighway on the likes of YouTube, Lifehacker and even Serious Eats. Some of the comments posted on the sites are worth a read. Here is someone who lived during the GD and WWII and was old enough to feel the impact. She also participates in the social networking technology. Not sure she uses Twitter though.

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