To Live One Hundred Years

In 1911, cars were a new idea. The zipper was high-tech gadgetry. The computer was science fiction. Imagine where we’ll be in another 100 years.

On July 31, 2011, my family gathered at a Knights of Columbus hall in Rochelle Park, NJ to celebrate my Aunt Carrie’s 100th birthday. I see those Smucker’s jars on the Today Show all the time and think, “Wow that’s amazing.” And now I actually know a centenarian (better than a centurion I suppose).

Running thru my head were the many advances she would have been witness to during her lifetime. The 20th century was the most technologically robust in human history. Just think of the Herculean leaps in technology over it’s last couple of decades alone.

Younger colleagues of mine find it odd that there was no commercial internet when I was their age. There were no affordable cellphones yet either. Texting? HDTV? WiFi? GPS?

An early cable TV “remote”

The very first Cable TV system in our home had a “remote” which was the actual cable box connected directly to the TV (we could get scrambled channels by jamming a paper clip in the circuit board). And the rotary phone was still a very common household item. In fact, the fancy new touch-tone phones all had switches on them so they could work on the old pulse-tone (or rotary) lines.

We’re only talking twenty, maybe thirty years ago. The pace of invention during the latter part of the twentieth century has sped up exponentially. Think about the introduction of the Altair 8800 microcomputer in 1975 with it’s 256 bytes of RAM and no keyboard. To program the unit the user had to tediously flip toggle switches.

My first computer was the Commodore VIC-20 with it’s earth-shattering 5 KB of RAM and a cassette-tape data drive. It was the first home computer to sell over one million units. That was in 1980. Just two years later came the Commodore 64 with an astounding 64 KB of RAM and a 5 1/4″ floppy drive.

In the early days of MIDI, I used that C64 to program synthesizers and sequence all sorts of music. In 1987, I graduated to an Apple Mac SE. That had 1 MB of RAM, a 20 MB internal drive and a micro-floppy drive. One thing it still didn’t have however was a modem.

Now consider your current laptop. Think about how much smaller, faster and more powerful it is than the stuff from just a couple of decades ago. Think about how much better your phone is today than the one you had just a year or two ago. Think about how much better things will be in five or ten years from now.

Now think about the innovations that came nearly a century ago during the first decade of my aunt’s life. Try to imagine the amazement of those people at the site of such things like the zipper. It’s sometimes hard for us to do that since we’ve grown so accustomed to things just getting better. In fact, we expect it. How many times have you said, “I won’t buy the latest smartphone until they work out the bugs.” And then a few months later, there it is — the better version with most of those bugs worked out.

Curved Dash Oldsmobile

On July 31, 1911 — the day Aunt Carrie came into the world — General Motors became the first automobile company to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange. At that point, GM was barely three years old. The first mass-produced automobile was the Curved Dash Oldsmobile introduced in 1901 and the first American-built, gasoline-powered automobile came eight years before that.

Check out these items that did not exist before my aunt was born. Items that came to be from between 1911 – 1920. These are things we take for granted today. Things that are either used every day or have inspired the things we use.

  • Automobile electrical ignition
  • Knapsack parachute
  • Motorized movie cameras
  • The bra
  • The zipper
  • Pyrex
  • Loudspeakers
  • Radio tuners
  • Stainless steel
  • Fortune cookies
  • Pop-up toaster
  • Short-wave radio
  • Band-Aids

While I’m sure the folks in the early part of the century thought the world was moving fast, it was not unusual for changes to take years or even decades. After all, many of the things on that list remained virtually unchanged until many years later. Some, haven’t changed at all. Yet in my time, the rate of change has gone from years to days.

It makes me wonder about the changes I’d see if I lived a hundred years. It’s mind-boggling since — no matter how fast we’ve been moving — we’re still gaining speed.

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