icepixie: ([Movies] Fred and Ginger Swing Time clos)
I just realized that in less than two months, we're going to have an easy way to refer to our current decade: the 'teens. No more of this awkard "2000s" business; we'll have a real decade name again.

That feels a tiny bit shocking. I'm not sure why.

Maybe it's because my immediate assocation with the phrase is with the 1910s, which seem incredibly remote to me. It's weird, but they seem somehow more distant than even the last decades of the nineteenth century, and certainly moreso than any of the decades that came after. The twenties and thirties, I get on a visceral level; I feel like I have enough common referrents with them to understand, more or less, what life was like then. The period before 1900 is so removed from my daily experience as to make any hope of understanding life then impossible, so in an odd way it's easier; I write off the whole enchilada and concentrate on the aspects that are accessible.

The Edwardian era1 doesn't quite fit into either category. It's tantalizingly close--you have the rise of the automobile, the silent movie, the gramophone; not the same as today, but close enough analogues. Even telephones had been around for a few years. But at the same time, you have the crazy hats and hobble skirts of women's fashion; you have the whole social system that made WWI an even bigger mess than it was going to be anyway (for that matter, you have a cavalry in WWI); you have the decade with the greatest percentage of the population having servants or working as servants in 1900-1910; you have women unable to vote in this country; you have the huge popularity of ballroom dancing and vaudeville. These are things I can read about--or even do, as with ballroom--but never really know.

I do think WWI has an incredible amount to do with it; there are echoes in WWII and in the sweeping cultural changes of the 1960s, but nothing really makes a big black uncrossable line across the timeline of the past century or of any century quite like the Great War. (Which makes me wonder why we don't study it more in, say, high school. I knew the dry facts of Franz Josef's assassination and everything, but it wasn't until very recently, when I started reading Eliot and Woolf and other Modernists with people who really know what they're talking about, that I got the true impact of this war on every area of life.) You can go up to that line, you can wave at the people on the other side, but there's no getting over it.

I wonder, though, if it's just the war, and if those two decades wouldn't seem so remote to me if it hadn't happened. Is the horizon of understanding always fixed at ninety or so years in the past? I guess I wonder because I'm curious how our current era is going to look to the people of the 2110s. So much of this decade, at least technologically, has seemed to be refinements of previous technologies--the iPod for the Walkman, 3D movies for 2D movies, etc. Nothing quite like the paradigm shift of the automobile has come along.2

Maybe this century, though, will be one of primarily social and cultural rather than social and technological sea changes. The recent healthcare reform bills, for example. Perhaps the European Union organization and ideal will spread to other areas of the globe; maybe the Vulcans will show up and we'll end up uniting under a world government. Or perhaps in 2083, there will be a law passed that requires all meat to be grown in vats. (I guess that would be both social and technological. Hmm.) Maybe people of 2110 will marvel at a world that had 193 separate countries and where people killed animals for food.

What are things about our current era that you think will be unknowable to the people of 2110s?

* Icon is not related; it's just pretty. How much do I want Ginger's dress? Oh, wait, that would be a whole lot.

1 I'm using the extended definition, i.e., from 1900-1918.

2 Granted, that paradigm took probably thirty years to really shift entirely from horses to cars, but I think you get my meaning. Then again, maybe it's just that we're still riding the wave of the 80s and 90s, with the infiltration of computers into all areas of our lives; the car and the telephone have been telescoped by time into these immediate, sweeping changes, but really they were more like the information revolution.

August 2017

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