I used to think my grandmother had seen amazing change in her lifetime. She did, look you. She was born in 1904, in a village that still had iron rings embedded in every wall or pavement near the door, so you could tie your horse, while going about your errands.
She died in 1992, in a world that had not only sent flights to the moon, but where flights to other continents were normal and easy and even (relatively) affordable, compared to the long transatlantic ship travel my grandfather did. Her children who had immigrated to Venezuela and Brazil could visit, if not every year, then every other year, something that had been unthinkable when she was young.
But in a way, her quotidian life was not that much different. Part of it was the village being in many ways a slow community, lagging behind, taking what it wanted from progress and ignoring the rest.
When I was very little — this was important, since I sometimes needed to be rushed to the hospital for oxygen (I really have never been very well, except briefly in my twenties, which I now feel I squandered) — there were two cars in the village, both panel vans, both associated with jobs. The joking description for the road I lived on when I was little was the road “oooh, there comes one.” Meaning cars were rare enough they were remarkable. This changed in the late seventies and early eighties, of course, but it was a slow “let’s adapt to this” ramp.
I mean the village grew before I was born. I know that, because when I was 6 my uncle from Brazil came to visit first time in 20 years, and was amazed at all the new houses, and some new people. But all his old acquaintances were till there too. I wonder what he’d make now of Porto swallowing the village whole due to the highway being put in, and of high rises all around.
The thing is the changes in he 20th century were more “outside the house.” Sure, there was the telephone (Grandma — and us — only got that in the late seventies, but we could cross the street to answer the phone in the general store, if called for.)
Our changes are direct, personal, where we live, some of us more than others.
We tend to think nothing changed, because well, where is my flying car? WHERE are my moon colonies? (My grandkids could very well live in one, but never mind.)
But so much has changed about daily life.
You see, mysteries, contemporary or near past are like time capsules. Because the crime and solving it depends on the details of everyday life, you get to see/feel/taste the past. Agatha Christie is a primer to between the wars. And in another ten years people will look, confused, at “A murder is announced.”
I realized that two mysteries I wrote in the late eighties are now unpublishable and unsalvageable, because the murder/solution depends not only on there being no cell phones, but there being no computers.
My kids are more aware of what used to be than most of their generation because they read, but the number of times I’m telling them something, or we’re watching a mystery and they say “Why didn’t he search that on the net?”
I used to wake up, the first twenty years of my marriage, and spend an hour reading the daily papers (local, Denver and the WSJ.) The arrival of monthly magazines gave me a day off as I read all the news and opinion pieces.
It changed so suddenly, that the postage I had to mail out short stories on submission has been “feeding” all our postage needs for the last 10 years. Short stories (not that I really write on spec anymore) and novels go out electronic. And more and more they get published electronic (and I need to catch up on paper) right here too.
I’ve gone from telling people how to submit, to just telling people to go indie at least at first. Those people in general make more money than I do. (Go indie, young man, go indie.)
And the secondary order effects are still percolating, things we don’t see coming yet. Note the village was swallowed up by a big city on the delayed arrival of a 20th century tech. The highway which now runs up and down the length of Portugal wasn’t completed till the end of the century, but it makes it possible honestly (it’s a small country) to commute from one end of the country to the other if you so wish. My brother, on his first job, used to go to Lisbon for the week and commute Fridays and Mondays by train. It took half a day. Our trip to the beach at the Southern end of Portugal took eight hours by car (usually at night.) This means populations are dislocating, and what was once a highly regionalized country is homogenizing. It will mean strange marriages, the break up of traditional culture (good and bad.)
The US went through that in the 20th century to an extent, (except it’s more within states) but it’s now going through something different…
More and more people work from home. Sure, there are some professions that won’t be able to do it. But many can. And things change. Part of the reason our society is as it is, part of the reason for the state as moral arbiter is the working out of another change form mid-twentieth century: most women working. Kids raised by strangers. The schools having free rein, because you have to trust someone and who checks EVERYTHING when you’re dead tired.
Internet? Cell phones? Work from home? More autonomy in a lot of professions, like mine?
Where does it lead?
This morning I woke up with the idea that soon, not very far off, the world I was born into will be strangely romantic. Checks? Phones? Letters? Newspapers? The stuff of romance.
At some point in the future, a novelist will make us as quaint as the regency.
But for me it is yesterday. Caught between the times, I only want to see where this is going. Sure, there will be turmoil and confusion, but so far the changes seem as though they’ll empower the individual. And that’s something I approve of.