In a recent book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, Robert J. Gordon argues that America since 1970 has not been characterized by rapid, disruptive change, but by relatively minor alterations and improvements. He notes five great inventions of the 19th century (electricity, urban sanitation, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the internal combustion engine and modern communication) had vast and far-reaching effects upon America.
"Except in the rural South," Gordon writes, "daily life for every American changed beyond recognition between 1870 and 1940."
In other words, we may think that Facebook and smartphones are revolutionary, but imagine an age without telephones, automobiles, moving images or voice transmission of any kind. In such a context, an iPhone 6 is the latest payphone iteration and a gadget-heavy Tesla is a pimped-out Model A.
But what about daily life between 1950 and 2016? Has it changed radically?
For me, not so much.
In 1950, my father got up at 7 a.m. on weekdays, put on a flannel robe over his pajamas and went downstairs for breakfast. He dealt with our two unruly Chesapeake Bay retrievers, made a pot of coffee and prepared breakfast, usually fried eggs over easy with a couple strips of bacon. He read the paper, went back upstairs, took a shower and put on a blue or white button-down shirt, a conservative tie, a charcoal-gray suit and perforated black wingtip shoes with calf-length socks.
He bade goodbye to his wife and 10-year-old son, walked out the front door of our 3,122-square-foot, 21/2-story 1899 house on Tejon Street, climbed into his 1940 Mercury four-door sedan and drove 17 blocks south to his office at 2 S. Nevada Ave.
A self-employed stockbroker, he stayed in his office until late afternoon. Arriving home, he'd get together with my mother (a working woman who owned a downtown bookstore) and they'd have a cocktail before dinner. He cooked, my mother and I cleaned up, and we always had dinner at home.
In 2016, I get up at 6:30 or so on weekdays, slip a raggedy warm-up jacket over my pajamas and go downstairs. I let out our unruly Chesapeake Bay retriever and our Catahoula, fetch the morning papers, make a pot of coffee and a light breakfast, read the papers and let the dogs back in. Then I go back upstairs, take a shower and don a pair of khakis, a plaid shirt and running shoes.
I kiss my wife (who also works) goodbye, walk out the front door of our 3,127-square-foot, 21/2-story 1899 house on West Bijou Street, climb into my 2002 Nissan Xterra and drive 26 blocks to the Independent/Business Journal offices at 235 S. Nevada Ave.
Returning home after 5, I deal with the dogs, check the mail, help with dinner and clean up — unless we decide to go out. If so, it's off to familiar, reasonably priced places like the Navajo Hogan, Thunder & Buttons or SouthSide Johnny's. Like my parents, we'll have a drink or two to unwind.
The physical and social geography of my life creepily replicates that of my parents. The mental geography is different, thanks to the demands and opportunities of our communications devices. My father had newspapers, magazines, books, radio, telephones, records and movies — TV didn't come to Colorado Springs until KKTV went on the air on Dec. 7, 1952. We have everything he had, but amplified, multiplied, instantly available and shrunken to fit in the hand.
What would Dad make of it? He'd probably love it all — he spent much of his workday typing buy-and-sell confirmations, talking to customers on the phone and tracking the market. A computer, an iPhone and a Bloomberg terminal — the stuff dreams are made of!
A 1950s house for his millennial grandchildren? The stuff dreams are made of.
A few weeks ago, we went to a housewarming party given by our young friends, Amanda and Joe Luciano, in their renovated west-side 1950s rancher. I loved the home: spacious, flowing and modern. The kitchen cabinets — so sleek and minimalist compared to the dreary 1980s oak tombstones in our kitchen. I remembered my mother's 1954 kitchen remodel, incorporating bright green steel St. Charles cabinets.
"They make new vintage cabinets just like your Mom's," Amanda told me. "You should redo your kitchen — that would be so cool!"
The future — just like the past, except for that extra five square feet.
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