Stasis Shock

Back in the 1970’s author Alvin Tofler’s book Future Shock explained the phenomena of how people and even whole cultures could undergo ‘culture shock’ when their society, including physical culture, changed too quickly.  It was something that folks of my generation discussed as a real issue that may face us in our lives, with projections that change would accelerate.  But in 1980, in a discussion with some college classmates, I came to the opposite conclusion.  We had grown up reading that the world would change at that accellerated rate and had already projected our selves into that imagined future.  But something was happening that had not been forecast.  The rate of change in the developed nations did NOT accelerate.  In fact, it appeared to have been slowing down.  This slowing down caused a great frustration in my generation that the forecast changes, from civil liberties, gay rights, to flying cars were nowhere in sight.

Consider for a moment the changes that had occured in my grandparent’s lifetime.  They were born in a world that saw the first cars on the road, railroads were replaced first by propeller driven airliners, then jets.  Radio came into their homes, to later become television, first black&white, then color.  They had seen women earn the right to vote.  Their house became airconditioned and the windmill that pumped the water from the well was replaced by an electric pump.  They lived through two world wars (or should we now call them simply World War, Phase I & II ?), the boom of the 20s, and the bust of the great depression. They saw on their TV rockets take men to the moon.

The generation of my parents saw that great depression and that horrible war which was ended by the begining of the nuclear age.  They had seen trains replaced by airliners, rockets to the moon, television replace radio, and the telegram replaced by the fax.  They had also seen the fight and eventual victory of the civil rights and second wave of feminism change the social structure of the family and the workplace.  It was if these two generations had seen too much change… and now, with Reagan taking the residence in the White House, “Morning in America” seemed more like lazy afternoon naptime to those of my generation.  It seemed as though that great generation was deliberately slowing things down.

We were frustrated and surprised.  I coined a term for it, “Stasis Shock”.

Except for the introduction of the personal computer, which was very much the brainchild of my generation, in fact, of my neighborhood crowd, nothing much changed for decades.  (One of my classmates was a sweet girl named Patti… Patti Jobs, had a smart older brother named Steve.  Another of my crowd was Don Fernandez.  Don’s older brother, Bill had two friends both named Steve, yes those two Steves, who he introduced to each other because they both were into electronics.)

Don’t agree?  Consider this, the Wright brothers invented the airplane in 1903.  The first commercial jet was delivered in 1958, only fifty five years later.  That Boeing 707 isn’t much different than the Boeing 747, the mainstay of large airliners.  The 747 came out in 1970.  Consider that for a moment.  The 747 is still in production, not just still flying.  It’s worse for small aircraft.  If you go to your small community airport today to take a flight lesson, its likely you will be flying a small plane designed in the 1950’s and very likely built and still flying since the early ’70s!  Now consider cars.  Except for styling details, I dare say that cars haven’t changed much since 1970 either.  We are still using essentially the same transportation system developed nearly 60 years ago, unchanged.

But about ten years ago I started to sense an acceleration in the pace of change.  More people had cellphones than land lines and those mobile phones were getting smarter and soon had better, higher resolution displays (which I had a hand in creating, natch).  We were listening to music and watching video that we had downloaded, rather than on physical media.  Some of the cars on the road were gas/electric hybrids and even some that were pure electric. People use their cellphones, not to call for a cab, but to signal for a ride through an app.  Our skies saw increasing numbers of drones, most importantly multirotorcraft.  Many of our crops were genetically modified, though a small handful of neo-luddites demonized the technology.  On the social front, things were finally changing as well.  Civil rights for LGBT people dramatically improved, with the Supreme Court declaring laws that criminalized being gay to be unconstitional in 2003 and the first State to allow same sex marriage did so in 2004.

The pace of change and improvement has accelerated throughout this past decade.  Same sex marriage is now the law of the land nationwide.  The FAA is developing Next Generation Air Traffic Control based on GPS instead of radar.  Drones are set to change multiple industries.  We will likely see doorstep delivery of packages via rotor drones within the near future.  Larger passenger multirotor drones will likely follow which will revolutionize mid-range personal transportation.  Self-driving cars are already being tested on the road and will soon become the norm.  Those cars will likely be all electric within a decade or two.  Most people probably won’t bother to own a car, but take advantage of ride-sharing.  Airliners will likely be hybrid turbine/electric.  We will see a resurgence in manufacturing of small planes that will be all electric and be able to fly from point to point, parking spot to parking spot, via autopilot tied to a computerized ATC.  Virgin Galactic will take you to the edge of space, while SpaceX will take you to orbital hotels.  Non-electronic articles will be 3D printed at home just before use.  Medicine will be revolutionized by Expert Systems tied to wearable health sensors.  Medical scanners and full panel assays will become so inexpensive that you will know your diagnoses before you feel sick.

The Great Stasis has been broken and we will see dramatic and rapid changes in the coming decades.  I’m coming out of Stasis Shock.  How about you?

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