Janus

by John Quiggin on January 20, 2022

A fun and often useful way of getting perspective on events from what seems like the relatively recent past is to take the time interval between those events and the present, then count back an equal time into the past [1].

For example, The Beatles first big hit, Love me Do, came out 60 years ago, in 1962. Going back 60 years to 1902, the hits of that year included Scott Joplin’s ragtime number The Entertainer. The recent buzz around Get Back can be compared to the revival of interest in Joplin generated by the Newman-Redford movie The Sting[2]

A more memorable event for most who were alive at the time was the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963, that is, 59 years ago. Going back 59 years gets us to 1904, only three years after the previous US Presidential assassination, that of William McKinley. At least according to Wikipedia, the immediate reaction to the McKinley assassination was comparable to that after Kennedy’s. However, McKinley was overshadowed by his successor, Teddy Roosevelt in a way that didn’t happen with LBJ and JFK. So, AFAICT, McKinley’s assassination was pretty much forgotten by the time of Kennedy’s election[2]

As far as left politics goes, a comparable observation that the events of May 1968 are closer to the October Revolution than to the present.

Looking at intervals like this gives an idea of whether change has been fast or slow. For example, the beginning of the Jet Age of passenger jet transport is commonly dated to the introduction of the Boeing 707 in 1958, but there’s also a case for the 747 introduced in 1969. Counting back from these two dates gives a range from 1894 to 1916, neatly bracketing the Wright Brothers in 1903. The massive advances from the Wright Brothers to the early 7x7s contrast sharply with the near-stasis since then (punctuated by the failure of the Concorde). Today’s 7x7s and their Airbus competitors differ most notably in the fact that the passengers are packed in tighter, and more effectively pacified with digital entertainment. The newer planes are more fuel efficient, safer and not quite as noisy, but those are incremental advances in an industry that used to symbolise modernity and technical progress.

That’s enough from me. Anyone else have a favorite?

fn1. The first time I saw this was in a look back at at an ANU Revue, during the Vietnam years, on the theme Hits of the Blitz. The author pointed out that the Vietnam War was now further in the past than WWII had been at the time the show was put on.
fn2. Doing the same thing for The Sting (1973) takes us back to the silent era and The Thief of Baghdad
fn2. Some fans of numerology noted that the winners of the 1860, 1880, 1900 and 1960 elections had been assassinated. Adding the 1840 1920 and 1940 winners, who died in office (though Roosevelt survived his third term, and won again in 1944), this produced the “Curse of the Zero Years”

{ 47 comments }

1

Dave Maier 01.20.22 at 5:29 am

Don’t forget William Henry Harrison (1840). Tippecanoe and Tyler too! Good catch! Will fix

2

Fake Dave 01.20.22 at 6:24 am

Understanding that the two world wars were only about 20 years apart helps explain why so many people thought the world was supposed to end in the mid-60s. You can also treat both wars and the poorly enforced armistice in between as a single three-decade-long event that ended 77 years ago (roughly a human lifetime). Subtract 77 from 1914 and you get 1847 — the midpoint of the Mexican-American War and just a year before the wave of revolutions that spread across Europe.

The next 30 years would see the world utterly transformed by the rise of romantic nationalism and a marked uptick in bloody uprisings and armed conflicts including the Crimean War, the Second Opium War and far more devastating Taiping Rebellion in China, the American Civil War, the Italian and German wars of unification, the only sustained border wars between South American republics and the quick but dirty Franco-Prussian war. It also saw the transition from old colonial models of far-flung trading posts and client states to a “global frontier” mindset that would culminate in the New Imperialism and Scramble for Africa of the 1880s and see hundreds of native nations erased from the maps.

All of this of course, factored into starting the Great War, but for most of that hypothetical human lifespan, it would be impossible to discern a pattern and even in 1914, most people were apparently blind to where it was was all headed. It makes me wonder what delusions and blindspots the post-war generation had (besides ecology) that future generations are going to shake their heads at.

3

JLK 01.20.22 at 7:14 am

Bitcoin launched 13 years ago. In 1996 (26 years ago) I also did not have any cryptocurrency. But I often touched paper currency, which I seldom do anymore.

The iPhone launched in 2007. In 1992 (30 years ago) I had a corded phone, which I occasionally used with a dial-up modem to download USGS river gauge data from a gopher client. And I routinely left the house with only a wallet and keys (no phone, no mask) in my pockets. Social media was an actual bulletin board.

My parents got a CD player around 1989, although that technology was widely used by 1985. In 1948 (74 years ago) That’s right around when 45 singles were replacing 78s as “smaller, more durable and higher-fidelity” alternatives.

I wrote principal parts of my dissertation in 1997 using data that I transcribed by hand from hard copies of data from the US Patent & Trademark Office in Crystal City, VA (neither crystal nor a city; discuss). That sounds kind of like a 1972 thing to do, and not how I obtain data these days.

4

oldster 01.20.22 at 8:22 am

A different but related game is to think about how the future will treat events as simultaneous that strike us as distinct. The Hundred Years War did not seem like a single event to those involved in it. The “Jazz Age” involved dozens of revolutions, people who hated each other’s styles, or thought last year’s groove was for dinosaurs. One can see it already with the lumping of late 70s disco, funk and hard rock — musicians who would not have been caught dead together on the same stage are now all on the same retro playlist.
A trivial example from my own life. I happened to be reading “The Magician’s Nephew” when Abbey Road came out, and to this day that music provokes synaesthetic associations in me — I hear “Sun King” and I see the courts of Charn.
Now and at the time this seemed like an incongruous pairing: the High Church Oxonian nostalgic preciousness vs the gritty scouser noise-makers.
But in fact, these cultural productions were separated by only 12 years and a train ride.
If these things are thought of at all a hundred years from now, who will think anything other than, “oh right, that was all that post-war British cultural efflorescence.”

5

MFB 01.20.22 at 8:51 am

I remember when I was a teenager, which must have been around 1977 or so, reading an old Stephen Leacock (a humourist who was also a leftist economist at McGill) who was reviewing predictions made about planetary resources — must have been written around 1924 — in a piece called “Our Expiring World”, explaining that energy resources were finite and were running out, and concluding that the best thing one could hope for was to go out and get a chunk of coal and a pint of petrol and have a big time. Thinking about it, the point at which I read it was almost midway between when it was written and now — which gives one some idea about how resolutely resistance to acknowledging resource depletion has been pursued in the last century!

Incidentally, as a South African, I note that the unbanning of the ANC (in 1990) is further away from us now, than the unbanning of the ANC was from the banning of the ANC (in 1961). Gives me some perspective on politics in time considering that the unbanning seemed such an apocalyptic episode when it happened.

6

Tim Worstall 01.20.22 at 11:25 am

“The newer planes are more fuel efficient, safer and not quite as noisy, but those are incremental advances”

This has always struck me as a slightly odd thing for an economist to say – and JQ is by no means the only one who does say it. The output of the system is the ‘plane ticket. Which has become massively, massively, cheaper over that period of time. Not sure I’d want to have to insist upon the argument but it could at least be made. That the revolution to the £15 cross Europe air ticket is larger than that of the 747 itself.

After all “a technology” is a way of doing things. Not the shiny new ‘plane, but the whole system.

7

Adam Roberts 01.20.22 at 12:19 pm

When Zsa Zsa Gabor died in 2016, at the age of 99, it so happened I was finishing off writing a biography of H G Wells. One unignorable aspect of Wells’s life is that he was, as I believe the contemporary idiom has it, extremely thirsty: he had sex with a huge number of women, from the 1890s when he married his first wife (something he prepared for by going with a prostitute, to rid himself of his virginity) right through to when he died in 1946. Dozens and dozens of famous women through the nineteen teens and twenties and thirties. And one of the things I discovered was that Wells propositioned Gabor when she first came to London as a starlet in the late 1930s. She turned him down, but I was still struck that there was that spectral connection between a man born in 1866 and a woman all the papers were talking about in 2016.

8

Kenny Easwaran 01.20.22 at 4:36 pm

One of the classic examples going the other way is that Cleopatra lived closer to the present than she did to the construction of the Great Pyramids. If there was a King Arthur, then Stonehenge was nearly twice as old in his time as he would be in our present time.

But for the original question, 9/11 is now older than the Reagan Revolution was at 9/11.

9

nastywoman 01.20.22 at 4:55 pm

and I remember when we still used to go somewhere else to work –
to something called ‘an office’ – and it was in huge building –
with doormen –
and some of friends had to spend hours every day to get there –
and they used to say:
Ir’s ‘war’
and then suddenly ‘the war’ was over –
and that was A very very long time ago – and now I#m sitting here and working for some
(empty office) which is 14 thousand miles away –

AND how revolutionary is… this?

10

Rob Chametzky 01.20.22 at 5:33 pm

Robert Gordon does an extended version of something like this in his 2016 book “The Rise and Fall of American Growth”. He takes 2010 as his “now”, goes back in 70 year increments to 1940 and 1870, and compares living in a (non tenement) apartment in NYC in those years. His point is that someone from “now” could live pretty easily in the 1940 version, but the 1940 person would find the 1870 version pretty much entirely alien and well-nigh unlivable. In 1940 there’d be hot & cold running water, electricity, telephone, appliances, and radio in the apartment, and the building would have a (safe) elevator. There’d be autos in the (paved) streets–not horses–and air travel would be possible. None of this would be true of 1870.

His Big Point is that the changes from 1870 to 1940 were massively more significant (for growth) than the changes from 1940 to 2010, and he uses this comparison to help carry us readers along with him.

–RC

11

Tom Hurka 01.20.22 at 5:41 pm

I (born 1952) remember being struck, in 1982, that the length of time back to the Kennedy assassination (19 years) was now greater than the length of time back from the assassination to the end of WWII. The end of WWII had always seemed a completely different world.

@MFB Stephen Leacock was as much a rightist as a leftist

12

John Quiggin 01.20.22 at 6:53 pm

Tim W I think you are subject to the same memory effects that I am talking about in this post. Big cuts in airfares made possible by the combination of new jets and deregulation started with Laker in 1973. I remember being stunned at how cheap it was to fly across the Atlantic on my first big overseas trip. Before that, the cultural expectation in Australia was that you would take “the trip” once, either one-way or return.

Deregulation cut fares in the US in the late 1970s. Ryanair started in 1984, and took advantage of deregulation imposed by the EU.

AFAICT, after the first big drops, quality-adjusted airfares haven’t changed more than would be expected from incremental technological progress,

Doing the comparison, passenger air travel was unobtainable at any price before the 1920s. When it started, Oz-UK took 7 days and cost a years wages.

13

Mr Spoon 01.20.22 at 7:32 pm

Going even longer, Tyrannosaurus Rex is closer to the 747 than to Stegosaurus.

14

SusanC 01.20.22 at 7:51 pm

Stars Wars episode IV came out in 1977, 45 years ago. Twice that and you’re back before The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Technicolor.

15

SusanC 01.20.22 at 7:54 pm

At least we’re not still seeing new Wizard of Oz sequels with Judy Garland resurrected with CGI. (Frank L Baum wrote plenty of other Oz books).

16

Alan Paxton 01.20.22 at 10:22 pm

Ars longa, vita brevis.

When I was learning German as a teenager in England in the early 80s, the Berlin Wall seemed to me ancient, older than life itself. But it was a mere 20-jährige, a few years older than me, and expired aged 28. Though that was an age to those whom it separated, long enough for children to be born, grow to adulthood and parent children of their own.

A hypothetical Berliner Mauer erected in 1989 would have correspondingly fallen in 2017, in time for my middle-aged self to emigrate from Brexit Britain and get a job in East Berlin, coronavirus regs permitting, before UK participation in the single market expired in 2020.

My daughter attended the George Eliot nursery aged 4 in 2010. It stood next to the Coventry house where a young Mary Ann Evans lived with her father (trying, unsuccessfully, to marry her off?) in the 1840s. I remember explaining to my daughter that Eliot was a woman, despite being called George, that she was a famous writer, and that she lived A Long Time Ago, though not as long ago as dinosaurs or Baby Jesus. My mind’s eye conjured up an image of Eliot co-existing with them, like the Flintstones, or like Mr Bean placing toy dinosaurs in the shop window Christmas crib.

17

J-D 01.20.22 at 10:30 pm

It’s two years since the beginning of the pandemic. Two years before that was the US government shutdown of January 2018.

The world has changed more in the last two years than in the–
–two years before that?
–five years before that?
–twenty years before that?
–well, what number would you put on it?

The COVID-19 pandemic marks the beginning of a new chapter in the history of every country in the world, and also of almost every other topic that might form the subject of a thematic rather than a national history. Of what other event in history could that be said?

18

DavidtheK 01.20.22 at 10:33 pm

@Tim #11 – Someone at LGM did this with the 40th anniversary of MTV’s first USA broadcast in 1981. It is now further back to that date than the end of WWII was to the start of MTV. And even in 1981 many people would have the regarded the end of WWII as something only “old ” people saw live. Some of these comparison points have to do with a youth culture dominance which emerged in the USA through twists and turns in the 5o’s, 60’s and 70’s.

19

CJColucci 01.20.22 at 11:54 pm

In 1992, as I was parking outside a courthouse in White Plains, the radio DJ (they still had them in those days) said that day was the 25th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper. I did some quick mental math and realized that the music that was 25 years old when Sgt. Pepper came out was Benny Goodman, and I had listened to him more recently than I had listened to the Beatles.
That’s when I finally realized I’d never be cool again.
And now the distance between today and 1992 is greater than the distance between the Beatles and Benny Goodman.

20

Alan White 01.21.22 at 12:12 am

Taking 1980 as a rounded-off watershed year for the personal computer–the intro to the Commodore, the first to sell over a million units–if you go back to 1939, HP is founded (in a garage) as an audio testing company, used to calibrate speakers in theaters for Fantasia. But honestly, having a computer in my pocket right now that can access the internet, translate languages, take purely voice commands to communicate by text, etc. etc. shows that the pace of computing and the widespread use and acceptance of it while not even recognized as computing has certainly accelerated since that crucial year. Not to mention supercomputing, quantum computing, etc.

21

Jim Harrison 01.21.22 at 12:23 am

For years I’ve dealt with insomnia by imaging myself transported back to December 23, 1959, my personal Bloom Day. Trying to explain 2022 to my friends and relations, I’ve often pointed out to them that they would have at least as much trouble telling folks in 1900 about their own times. For what it’s worth—not much, I admit—it isn’t the technological changes that impress ’em but the cultural and sociological changes. My parents have no problem driving a Tesla, but black presidents and homosexual marriage sound like science fiction to them. What puzzles them about modern movies and TV series, however, is less the many violated taboos than the way multiple plots are routinely entwined and presented out of sequence. Pulp Fiction really upset ’em and not because of the drugs, violence, or sex.

22

John Quiggin 01.21.22 at 2:56 am

Alan @20 If you take 1977 as the hinge year, ENIAC was 32 years earlier. The development from there to superminis like VAX-11 was (as I experienced the last bit of it) steady and incremental. Looking forward 32 years from the Apple II, also in 2007, to 2009, with the Mac, Internet, iPhone etc a radical transformation.

The broader point is that the 1970s marks the beginning of an era of stagnation in transport technology, combined with radical acceleration in ICT.

23

Tim Worstall 01.21.22 at 6:29 am

JQ – I may well be subject to that memory effect. This still makes me uneasy: “The broader point is that the 1970s marks the beginning of an era of stagnation in transport technology”. I agree that “transport technology” stopped getting faster at about that time. Concorde turned out not to be what was actually desired after all. I’m arguing though that “air transport technology” continued to develop just along different axes. Noise is a big one, entire generations of jet engines have been developed to deal with it. Cost, Networks, frequency etc.

Akin to the way that computing chips haven’t got faster at the same rate this past decade and a bit. A lot of the effort has gone into lower power requirements (mobiles, laptops) for the same computing performance.

Cars haven’t got faster for many a decade. They’ve got vastly safer though, more fuel efficient etc.

Really the underlying is that I’m most uncomfortable with the idea that we should even be trying to measure tech dev along just the one axis. Faster ‘planes, or faster chips, no, there are more targets than that.

24

SusanC 01.21.22 at 8:31 am

@22: on the other hand … Linux and Windows are written in C, the same language as was used to write Unix. Programming languages used for operating systems have experienced basically no change since 1978.

44 years before 1978 is 1934. When we had, well … Ada Lovelace’s technical report on the Analytical Engine was already old by then but otherwise, nothing, (The Analytical Engine gives us machine language but not high level languages. Ada Lovelace didn’t have a compiler).

25

Zamfir 01.21.22 at 10:45 am

Regarding aircraft economics, I think a useful data point is the retirement age of airliners. This is near 30 years. Operators continuously consider the improved economics of newer models, against squeezing some more years from old models, and decades-old models are conpetive in that. Manufacturers only consider major upgrades to models on a similar decades-long timescale, because the improvements on a shorter update cycle would not justify the cost of redesign and retooling.

I found a reference (https://www.sgiaviation.com/wp-conte to/uploads/2020/03/IATA_Aircraft_Decommissioning_Study_May-2018.pdf) which mentions that retirement age was 18 years in the 1980 (so, for aircraft build in the early 60s). Somewhat faster than today, but already a sign that there was no overwhelming cost improvement through technology in the 1970s.

26

j_h_r 01.21.22 at 12:03 pm

i was in high school in the mid to late 80s in suburban NJ

my perspective is that we are (roughly speaking) as distant from 9/11 and the subsequent Iraq invasion as me and my high school peers were from the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and subsequent escalation in Vietnam

27

Trader Joe 01.21.22 at 3:14 pm

It was 94 years ago that prepackaged sliced bread became available (1928).

It was 95 years before that (1833) that the UK abolished slavery (the US of course took a good bit longer).

It still remains to be seen what the greatest thing since sliced bread will be, but certainly sliced bread was a noticeable advancement over slavery.

28

MPAVictoria 01.21.22 at 3:35 pm

“Cars haven’t got faster for many a decade. They’ve got vastly safer though, more fuel efficient etc.”

I wish this was true but it isn’t. Take a look at the 0-100 km/h of the average family sedan in the mid 80s and compare it to their modern equivalent. It has dropped from like 10-12 seconds to the mid sevens. Quite an impressive increase while also being a total waste of resources.

/You can now buy a Toyota Camry that has faster acceleration then a Corvette or Ferrari from 40 years ago. Insane.

29

heckblazer 01.21.22 at 4:27 pm

@22:

I’d agree that airliners became a mature technology in the 70s. In addition to deregulation that was also when you got high-bypass turbofans, ETOPS rules allowing twinjets to fly over oceans, and the rise of widebodies, putting in place the main factors that produce current civilian plane designs like the Boeing 787 or the Airbus 350.

I would say there is one underappreciated major change in air travel, one that gets frequently overlooked because of what doesn’t happen. That would be safety, as large aircraft just don’t crash as often as they used to. In the US in 1970 there were 8 fatal accidents that produced 5.438 deaths per million aircraft miles. In 2019 there were 2, producing 0.046 deaths per million aircraft miles, and there were several years in the 2010s were the fatalities were zero. I’d say that’s a dramatic change.

30

MrMister 01.21.22 at 5:28 pm

As a younger person, describing the first Beatles hit or the JFK assassination as events that seem to be from the relatively recent past tickles me. After all, for those of you who were alive in 1962 or 1963 and for whom the events seem relatively recent, imagine someone at that time saying to your younger self “imagine an event from what seems like the relevantly recent past, such as the assassination of William McKinley–”

This does not undermine the general interest of the exercise as a way of trying to measure rates of change, but it did strike me as another kind of variation in our subjective sense of time.

31

kent 01.21.22 at 5:45 pm

Kurt Cobain has been dead longer than he was alive. Does that count?

32

dn 01.21.22 at 7:28 pm

At least according to Wikipedia, the immediate reaction to the McKinley assassination was comparable to that after Kennedy’s. However, McKinley was overshadowed by his successor, Teddy Roosevelt in a way that didn’t happen with LBJ and JFK. So, AFAICT, McKinley’s assassination was pretty much forgotten by the time of Kennedy’s election.

I think this is a pretty clear misreading. The fact that McKinley’s assassination was forgotten has little to do with Teddy Roosevelt, and everything to do with, you know, two world wars and one great depression intervening to make McKinley’s memory largely irrelevant by 1945. On the other hand, Kennedy’s murder is remembered precisely because Kennedy himself was overshadowed by his two massively consequential successors. In the wake of the turbulent Sixties, Kennedy’s murder was misremembered in pop culture as the political equivalent of “the day the music died” – a wishful interpretation that doesn’t bear the slightest historical scrutiny, but remains a source of conspiracy-theory fodder.

Anyway, as for other “looking forward/looking back” comparisons: a favorite of mine is Mussolini’s rise to power. Roughly 50 years before Mussolini’s “March on Rome” was the fall of Rome to the Kingdom of Italy. Old people alive in 1922 would have remembered the end of the Papal States and the Pope’s self-imposed half-century of internal exile in the Vatican. 50 years later, old people who remembered Mussolini’s rise would have also lived to see the Second Vatican Council.

33

reason 01.21.22 at 9:24 pm

The time between the first US civil war and the second world war is approximately the same as the time between the second world war and the second US civil war? Maybe.

34

J-D 01.22.22 at 12:44 am

What puzzles them about modern movies and TV series, however, is less the many violated taboos than the way multiple plots are routinely entwined and presented out of sequence.

Those tropes may be novel to your parents, but they are nevertheless among The Oldest Ones in the Book. allthetropes.org rates Anachronic Order as Older Than Feudalism and Plot Threads as Older Than Steam.

35

bad Jim 01.22.22 at 4:13 am

I retired over twenty years ago, feeling quite obsolete as an engineer because I was only fluent in assembly languages and had never mastered a modern high-level language. It amuses me to find that “assembly language”, about as old as the computer itself, is still ranked in the top ten or so. Perhaps it will always stick around, because even if it’s never strictly necessary it’s always pretty handy.

36

John Quiggin 01.22.22 at 6:06 am

“I think this is a pretty clear misreading. The fact that McKinley’s assassination was forgotten has little to do with Teddy Roosevelt, and everything to do with, you know, two world wars and one great depression intervening to make McKinley’s memory largely irrelevant by 1945. ”

If that’s the correct analysis, the same ought to be true of TR. His memory clearly survived the Great War undimmed, as Mt Rushmore reminds us. My very vague impression is that he was as memorable a figure in the early 1960s as JFK is today. For example I have no real idea about either Bull Moose Republicans or Rough Riders, but I’m pretty sure they are linked with him, as are teddy bears.

37

John Quiggin 01.22.22 at 6:10 am

Reason @33 I’m guessing that the overthrow of US democracy will be relatively bloodless and theoretically legal, particularly if it’s undertaken by Trump as an incumbent, which seems quite likely. The civil war, if it happens, will take place when that regime starts falling apart.

38

John Quiggin 01.22.22 at 6:16 am

Tim W. At least in my experience, reductions in aircraft noise haven’t been enough to offset increases in the number of aircraft.

I agree that safety is a big deal, but I’ll guess, without evidence, that the reduction in risk associated with measures to prevent metal fatigue (the cause of the Comet crashes) was greater than that arising from any single innovation afterwards.

39

Zamfir 01.22.22 at 7:27 am

The improvements in aircraft safety are largely a side effect of this same trend. As the changes in the technology and activites came much slower, people had more time to learn the dangerous practices and improve them. That goes for engineering, but also for production, maintenance, for pilots, for airlines, airports, air space control.

40

Barney 01.22.22 at 1:09 pm

My favorite is that Muslims ruled in Granada longer than they have not ruled since.

41

Cranky Observer 01.22.22 at 4:06 pm

“he massive advances from the Wright Brothers to the early 7x7s contrast sharply with the near-stasis since then (punctuated by the failure of the Concorde). “

IMHO this is a little misleading. Many of the advances in technology and manufacturing from 1990 have been of the silent variety as materials science, machining, semiconductor design, microtechnology, and many other fields have moved from been arts with a wide range of possible outcomes based on poorly understood principles applied via a combination of engineering, intuition, and luck to true sciences where desired outcomes can be achieved with high probability of success and repeatability. So it is true that there has been no significant change to the basic design of the tube-wing-pod airliner since the B-47 begat the B-367 and DC-8, and the Airbus A320 and Boeing 777 are probably close to the ultimate development of that form, but since 1990 there have been huge advances in reliability, fuel economy, noise reduction, and safety across all airliners [1] (comfort is strictly a question of the operator’s profit model), none of which are really visible to those outside the industry unless they live under a flight path.

Similarly with automobile and internal combustion engine technology: prior to ~1990 even the best automakers were using large amounts of guess and hope in their designs; today they put the desired parameters into a model and get 90% of their desired design targets on the first iteration. Similarly with many of the tools and toys we buy in the 20s.

Unfortunately this ability to design exactly to target has coincided with the rise of the concept that a “brand” is a free-floating signifier uncoupled from any deeper understanding of the market and user, thoroughness of design understanding, or quality of manufacturing, and that the only duty of a business is to squeeze as much “monetization” from a brand as it can and then discard it along with the cheap products produced in its name. But that is not the fault of the technology but rather our post-capitalism, post-industrial economic system.

[1] comparison flights in a Boeing 737-100 and 737MAX-8 would be instructive, but thank Gaia there are only a few of the former left on the Earth

42

dn 01.22.22 at 10:47 pm

JQ @36 – TR would have been forgotten too if he were as boring a personality as McKinley.

Again, Kennedy was turned into a martyr because of the circumstances of his era. People came to see the assassination as a unique tragedy because of how Johnson and Nixon turned out. Nobody ever felt the need to give McKinley the same fantasy treatment, because there simply wasn’t as much at stake in how he was remembered. His era was not a contested one the way the Sixties were and are. TR was a popular character and is remembered as such, but his campaigns were not epic battles for the soul of America like 1860 or 1968 (much as he desperately wished for such an opportunity). By US standards the presidential elections of 1904 and 1908 were positively dull affairs – literally nobody remembers who Alton B. Parker was – and even the 1912 contest was more about personality squabbles than about deep partisan conflict. It wasn’t until the Great War that you start to see the hints of such conflict really re-emerging in the US.

43

David J. Littleboy 01.23.22 at 3:49 pm

My version of this is to half-seriously claim that there hasn’t been anything new since the mid-1960s. Pretty much everything was in place by then: the transistor, quantum mechanics, DNA, TV, computers, commercial air travel, walkie-talkies, manned space flight, (to say nothing of the older things: telephone, radio, movies, the private car).

Humanity has been horrifically uninventive over the past half century or so: we’ve not come up with anything new whatsoever.

About the only thing that’s new is the thing that Al Gore’s legislation created, the public internet. OK, one really major thing.

(Incremental improvements, even though many end up being real important to users of the technology, as people above have mentioned, just ain’t the same thing as being actually new. Digital TV is a seriously kewl intellectual achievement (analog TV broadcasts every single pixel of every single frame while digital TV, for the vast majority of frames, only transmits the difference from the previous frame) But it’s still TV.)

44

reason 01.23.22 at 4:59 pm

JQ @37 – I’m not fully discounting the possibility that the second civil war will be a war of succession between “Republicans” who are somehow really royalists.

45

LFC 01.23.22 at 7:51 pm

dn @42 says McKinley’s era was “not a contested one the way the [19]60s were and are.”

Not sure I agree with that fully. The Spanish-American war and its aftermath stirred up a lot of debate about (formal) imperialism and the Philippines. I’d suggest that a big reason McKinley’s assassination is not as remembered now is simply that it’s farther away in time. (Lincoln’s assassination is of course remembered but that’s a special case for various reasons including Lincoln’s large presence in the country’s collective memory.)

The JFK assassination is remembered not only because he was a young, charismatic President cut down in his prime, not only because of the turbulent era that followed, but also because it occurred in the electronic media age and everyone has seen photos of the event and maybe the Zapruder film.

46

SusanC 01.23.22 at 9:17 pm

The JFK assassination is also remembered because it led to an entire genre of books postulating implausible theories about it.

(Lee Harvey Oswald’s good buddy was Kerry Thornley, inventory of the spoof religion known as Discordianism, and … nope, i’m going to stop right there).

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SusanC 01.23.22 at 10:06 pm

I think I’ll rephrase that … the JFK assassination was one of the first major events after our postmodern condition made it hard to believe that we have the truth about what actually happened. (The proliferation of books about Oswald being a symptom, rather than cause).

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