What organism would be last to recognize water? Fish. It is that way with our ‘culture’ in that we are surrounded by it 7/24 and so take it as a ‘given’ in our environment we simply are unaware of it. Here I summarize changes in the culture during the 20th century.

What organism would be last to recognize water? Fish. It is that way with our ‘culture’ in that we are surrounded by it 7/24 and so take it as a ‘given’ in our environment we simply are unaware of it. Here I summarize changes in the culture during the 20th century.

I have a couple of post cards probably dating 1913 and 1914 in what is now Bricktown, OKC. In 1913 the street was full of horses and buggies and farm products sold by farmers directly to consumers. The 1914 card has Model-T automobiles and most produce was by then purchased in grocery stores.

In 1900 about 40% of the population worked in agriculture and most were born at home in a farm house. [I was born at home in 1936.] We not only saw horses replaced by automobiles almost overnight, the introduction of mechanized farm machinery released most children on farms to move to jobs in the city.

The age of mechanization meant workers with very little formal education could perform simply jobs on assembly lines and earn wages sufficient to support a family. Women were moved off farms and out of suburban homes by taking over those factory jobs when the boys went off to World Wars I and II. Post war the women kept those jobs giving families two incomes and drastically improved lifestyles with indoor plumbing and modern cooking appliances.

WWII destroyed the economies of all the developed nations except the U.S. giving us monopoly in global trade for 20-25 years until the ‘rise of the rest’ gave them marketable goods in global trade. Hence, the ramp up to WWII through the ‘golden age’ of our monopoly in global trade gave my ‘silent generation’ an artificially-affluent lifestyle. That period of artificially high GDP gave society a high level of achievement and level of aspiration that is still working its way through the economy making it harder for children to do better in the workplace than their parents. We are in a period of adjusting to a more realistic American Dream.

I cannot hope to summarize improvements in technology and productivity. The jobs not requiring high technical skills and commensurately greater educational preparation have wiped out huge portions of middle-class jobs with the resulting greater inequality of income and wealth. Invention of transistors, computers, and the internet have shifted command and coordination out of the hands of clerks and middle managers to workers themselves relying in computers, iPhones, and electronic networks served by Artificial Intelligence [AI]. The child who for whatever reason loses out academically in grade school has most likely lost their place in the high-paying jobs when they reach their maturity.

In the forties and fifties neighborhoods had neighbors. We’d knock on doors and ask, “Can Willy come out and play.” Socially, residents varied more in every way and ended their work lives at all levels. Seated at4 my table in my 50th high school class reunion dinner was a member of Denton Cooley’s heart transplant team and others in occupations ranging down to janitor. Now, we seem to have ‘sorted’ into residential ‘silos’.. Kids don’t walk to their playmates’ homes: they interact in virtual friendship groups through electronic gadgets. It is possible that kids are closer now electronically than we were in person.

Space doesn’t allow me to summarize the civil rights movement with the integration of schools, end of racial segregation in public facilities, voting rights, etc. It was a good movement that continues today. I did not attend an integrated class until my OU college years [1954-8], and it went peacefully.

“Downtowns,’ the center of business, once actually was physically the center of town growing centripetally. All the professional offices and churches with names beginning with “First” grew from demographics. The growth of four-lane highways and centrifugal housing growth emptied downtowns as growth occurred at the perimeter of cities. Kids rarely walk or bike anywhere because parents chauffeur them in cities containing hundreds of square miles.

Pensions and paid health care are no longer fully paid by employers. One-half of Americans have NO savings. Firms have eliminated every fixed cost associated with workers in trying to keep up with competition.

I do not intend for this to be a jeremiad. For each aspect of our charmed existence during the ‘golden age’ of my youth there were improvements as well as losses. Being driven trumps pumping a bike or walking. My house now is more than five times the size of the one in which I was born. I didn’t even have a fan until college and refrigerated air conditioning until after graduation. My Dad was a high school graduate, but for him I would have three degrees.

Most of our friends have traveled widely here and abroad via luxury accommodations . I held 19 different jobs from mowing lawns to scooping wheat by the time I was out of high school. Few kids work now because there are few jobs for them. Bummer-I think.

Being middle-class now typically requires two-incomes. That means wives and mothers have moved into the work place and are increasingly breaking the ‘glass ceiling’ as they move up. Women for sure see that as an improvement in our culture.

We got our TV when I was 18 and now I cannot imagine life without it. I took the first computer course OU offered in 1956, and now I rely on my grandchildren to handle my computer . In general, life is better in the twenty-first century—for us. I’ll leave comments on morality to someone writing on the religion page.

Would you prefer to go back? Not likely.

Bob Allison is a Shawnee resident who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, where he taught and was Associate to the Director of University Hospitals. He and wife Elaine and he have three children, 11 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. He can be contacted at rfallison100@gmail.com.