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25 September 2010 @ 10:46 am
The Time Dilation Effects of Accelerating Technological Change  
I keep hearing radio ads for a local air show.

In them, the announcer growls enthusiastically that the audience will see the F-15 Strike Eagle and the F-18 Hornet.

The "monster truck rally" voice that he uses carries the suggestion that these are bleeding-edge examples of advanced aviation technology -- but they're both designs rooted in the 1970s.

The F-15 design is now older than the P-51 was when the F-15 first entered service.

Now, I'm not saying that this indicates how our aerospace technology has "stagnated". There's an s-curve to technological development: rapid advance at first, then a plateau where improvements are only incremental. At some point, you can really only improve on a design by making a major paradigm shift in underlying technology (piston to jet, for instance).

This intrigues me because it mirrors some other socio-cultural trends I've observed: people half my age or less who listen to the same music I do, and watch movies that I grew up with, and don't really think of them as "old".

The '90s just don't seem as far in the past as the '50s did when Happy Days debuted. When Marvel brought Captain America back in 1964 after a 19-year absence, those two lost decades were a huge gulf that let them wring great soap-opera mileage out of A Man Out Of Time. It's hard to see getting that kind of impact out of someone who hadn't been seen since the far-distant past of ... 1991.

If it were Just Me, I'd say that this was a natural process of Getting Old ... but even the adults of my childhood referred to the '50s as "back then", without the immediacy that the '90s seem to have today. I meet more than a few teenagers who listen to rock from the '60s and the '80s without any sense of "retro" or "nostalgia" or "irony". Blade Runner just doesn't have the same sense of "quaint" that Forbidden Planet did in 1982.

It's like the last half of the 20th Century didn't take nearly as much time as the first half.


 
 
 
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Your Obedient Serpent: facepalmathelind on September 25th, 2010 06:14 pm (UTC)
Tow of my favorite shows in the last couple of years were Journeyman and Life -- the former, a literal SF time-travel show, and the latter, a show about a falsely-accused police officer being released after 12 years in prison. Both shows dealt with time displacement between the '90s and the '00s, and one of the recurring themes was not how much things had changed, but how little. Small, incremental things: Charlie Cruz is baffled by tiny cell phones; Dan Vasser is frustrated when his smartphone can't get a signal in the past, and winds up having to steal a charger for his old phone from his past self.

Oh, jeez. I'm going to have to re-edit the main post later, because I just thought of the IDEAL example:

Back to the Future.

In 2010, BttF's 1985 still feels like "the present day", and its 2015 still feels like the Far-Flung Future.
Moral Explorernotthebuddha on September 25th, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
Their future *is* far-flung because they chose to put Mr Fusion and flying cars there, it's the number "2015" that is out of place.

I think the film 1985 seems like "today" at least partly because Marty's character and circumstances are kept mostly generic to appeal to the diverse movie audience, and partly because it was whacking popular movie, so *it* influences *us* in our expectations of what a contemporary, all-American life should look like.
John "The Gneech" Robey: Mad Redthe_gneech on September 25th, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC)
All of 1810-1910 was much more "like itself" than any of 1910 was like any of 1915. Change happens at wildly differing rates sometimes!

-The Gneech
Your Obedient Serpent: Warning: Chaotic Systemathelind on September 25th, 2010 06:15 pm (UTC)
... which makes me wonder if we're in for a LONG period of stasis, or if another wave of Rapid Change is about to sneak up on us.

I suspect the latter, but I was bitten by Chaos Theory as a child.
Tombfyretombfyre on September 25th, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the world is an interesting place like that at times. I can't speak for everyone, but I found myself rather rooted in the 80's for quite a while there. It probably helped that my parents kept 80's stuff around all through my childhood, even into the 90's and beyond. So I grew up listening to what was then new 80's rock, some slightly old disco, and the developing strands of techno and electronica. And this is all stuff I still enjoy today. :3

I too keep wondering if we're on the verge of some rapid shift INTO THE FUTURE or something of that nature. Several fusion research projects seem like they're going to pay out any day now. Methods of space travel other than a chemical rocket are being tested, and will soon be put to practical space tests. More and more developing nations are reaching out level of technology, and city building techniques...

Who knows what this next decade will bring. :D I don't know about you, but I'd like to retire off planet.
(Deleted comment)
Arcaton: jackassr_caton on September 25th, 2010 07:23 pm (UTC)
I know it's not the '80s when I try and get a Goldring G800 stylus.....

y'know in the '70s I could still buy NEW steel gramophone needles?
Drake: Sphinxdrakegrey on September 25th, 2010 10:08 pm (UTC)
On the one hoof, I agree. And I think some of that, at least in the pop cultural sense, comes from the pervasiveness older media from that time now has thanks to technology. When I was young, seeing a film from even 10 years earlier was a little rare. Old movies got grainer and grainier as their badly cut prints were infrequently shown on local stations. You had to scour old bookstores for that one 50's novel.

Now, thanks to legion of content hungry outlets, remastering, and nostalgia even for the very recent (90's TV shows are on Nick at Nite), everything old is as available as when it was new; there's no distancing effect from going off air, off the shelves, that regulates it to "my dad's time".

On the other hand I see "Blade Runner" as quaint, and the kind of people we were in the 90's is to me as far away and different as the 40's types my grandparents were to me in the 70's. We're meaner, we're more insular; we're more angry.

Ever read Alan Moore's "Give Me Liberty"? How each time President Rexall gets elected, the cheering crowds slowly turn into a screaming mob of thugs?

Like that.
Paka: pied crowpaka on September 25th, 2010 10:19 pm (UTC)
I'd suggest that's because of the nature of what has changed.

There have been some huge innovations but those are either basically internet and cell phone technology (rather than the nature of what infomation is exchanged); 3d graphics (which as heir to moviemaking techniques pioneered in purely physical space, isn't quite as obvious as a paradigm change); improved DVD technology is heir to the 80s vintage idea of having VHS tapes available at home; the engineering behind Prius and similar hybrids (under the hood, literally) and changes to chip design (under the hood more figuratively). While change has been occurring at a rapid pace, it just hasn't had the same societal reflection.

A lot of big societal stuff has been around for a while. The Republican Party is very obviously the way it was beginning to look under Nixon and then permanenced under Reagan. Governmental change - the continuous attempts to privatize everything, the lack of funding for public schools, the defense budget being gigantic, the fear of increased taxes - have basically been around as far as anyone remembers. The idea of personal computers or roleplaying games has been very much around since the 80s. Actual comic shops and sci-fi cons have been legitimized for so long that it's hard to imagine an age without an SCA, or worrying that you can't find that new AD&D stuff at Waldenbooks. Ideas about ecology and oil crisis have been kicking around since the 70s if not earlier. Punk and hip-hop elements which were new and perhaps frightening in the 70s and 80s have been integrated into mainstream music for a while. etc. etc.

Last, there's been the recession, which I feel has put the lid on some social changes while people scrabble around trying to survive. Doubtless there's going to be a new thing coming up soon - but it might be years off.
Hinoki D'Cheetahhinoki on September 25th, 2010 11:58 pm (UTC)
Or could it be that it's the scrabble itself that is going to either BE the change or PRODUCE the change?

Change can be catalyzed after a period of unrest..
Paka: pied crowpaka on September 27th, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC)
Both, I think? I'm not sure. I'm not really good with these things.
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on September 26th, 2010 03:19 am (UTC)
Whenever a major recordkeeping advance happens, afterward you see the era immediately preceding the recordkeeping advance become massively influential as people use the new technology to write down whatever is important to them. Clearly, new media types such as the Internet represents this kind of advance, but it's not too much different that Gutenberg's printing press or a real alphabet allowing the ideas of those times to be reported in magnified form.

I mean, not only is the 80s not culturally far away, neither is the fifteenth century. :p
Taverenstaverens on September 27th, 2010 05:18 pm (UTC)
I think some of the other responders got it right when they talked about how we were cultured to think ahead about the future. Hell, I am still waiting for the world Star Trek promised me. In this way my mind is already living in 2240 yet in my mind we are still stuck with gas generators and no transporters or Holodecks.

That being said, one can not ignore the enormous steps that have been taken and achieved already that are the stepping stones of getting humanity to that kind of future.

check it... Wireless electricity is a few years away from breaking into the mainstream. Hell, for cell phones and gadgets it already has. That is crazy awesome! (yes Tesla was doing it way back when but when a technology becomes commercialized that is what counts)

As for music, you need to start listening to Dubstep and all the insane electronica that is being dumped onto the web lately.

Another thing to consider is that when you are kids, everything is new to you. All the stories and plot twists on T.V. are fresh. But for our parents, they saw a lot of the same movies and read the same stories as when they were kids. It is just natural that as you get older you realize that there is a lot less "fresh" material out there then you thought there was when you were younger.

Rapid change is happening all around us right now, in fact, it is more rapid then it ever was before. But we expect it to; we want that change to happen and we want it to happen big. And because of that we take it for granted when it does happen and don't always see it for what it is.
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on September 27th, 2010 07:52 pm (UTC)
But for our parents ...

... I should note that your parents are my peers.