For me, World War Two has always been something that happened a long time ago. But consider this: when I was born, the war had ended less than twenty years before. Now it’s been over for more than seventy years. But to me, it doesn’t feel three times as distant. It was always far in the past.
The Wild West was still a credible idea in 1900, sixty-four years before my birth. Now those days are 116 years in humanity’s rear-view, essentially twice as distant, but to me that era is no farther than it always has been.
For all the future shock and whatnot we’re supposed to be reeling from, from where I sit the last fifty years are “now”. Everything that came before is ancient history. We have phones that surpass Star Trek technology, but I’ve been alive since the first airing of the show and the technology has all been part of a logical continuum. As a kid I rode in Jetliners and looked at pictures of B-17’s. Since I didn’t live through the transitional times, giant propeller-driven planes seem absolutely disconnected from my world. Ancient history.
There are still plenty of people out there for whom B-17’s are “now”. First-person memory. They experienced the intervening decades and it all ties together. But here’s a funny thought: I don’t think there’s much in my “now” that’s not also in kids-these-days’ “now”. The Old West, a couple of world wars, those are things that are truly over. But during my lifetime, what with its prosperity and unprecedented period of world peace, there hasn’t been that thing that historians hang their hat on. There have been major events, sure, but nothing like a world war, or the annexation of a continent and the glorified subjugation of its indigenous peoples.
Jet airplanes, the electric guitar. My parents remember a time before those. Between my birth and now, nothing’s really changed. We’ve just gotten better at doing the same stuff. Yeah, Internet blah blah. But Facebook is just a phone with everyone talking at once.
I was going to stop there, but then I had another splash of blended scotch whiskey (to avoid the oxymoron I call it “gluggin’ scotch” in my head) and projected forward. What might make the life I live now ancient history?
Sure, kids born in the near future will never know what it was like before the human genome was sequenced, and will never appreciate the Las-Vegas methodology we use to create medicine right now (which is itself a huge improvement on what came before). But will they feel it? Will they look back on Amoxycillin the way I look at a B-17? I doubt it, but it would be cool if they did. “Back in those days someone who had cancer would drink poison and hope it killed the disease first.” They’d say that like they were looking at a black-and-white photo of General Custer.
That is the happy science-fiction ending. I have a feeling, however, that tomorrow’s B-17’s are the outline of Florida as we know it and the existence of New Orleans. Corpus Christi, Seattle. There will be people who remember Venice and those who for whom it is a legend. Ancient history.