Back in the Day

Back in my DayI’m not sure when the phrase “in living memory” entered the lexicon {λεξικόν}, but I suspect it must have been fairly recently, relatively speaking.To me, those three words usually refer to something that has changed people’s lives so significantly that there are old folk around who can happily start a sentence with: “Back in my day…”

To me, those three words usually refer to something that has changed people’s lives so significantly that there are old folk around who can happily start a sentence with: “Back in my day…”

That wouldn’t have happened in the dim and distant past because technology evolved slowly and the world wouldn’t have changed too much from cradle to grave. Of course, there was the agricultural revolution, the invention of the printing press, the ages of reason and  discovery etc, but most ordinary lives carried on as they had before.

The biggest shift came around 200 years ago with the industrial revolution and the developments in textiles, steam power and iron founding. Scattered communities became concentrated in burgeoning cities and people became company employees rather than family cottage industries.

Back in my DayBut all people had done was to exchange one way of living for another, and not necessarily for the better. The means of production continually improved in efficiency, as did living conditions eventually, but on the whole the life of the common man pretty much followed the pattern of their forefathers.

What they saw was the steady climb of technology up the seemingly endless stairway of progress and the steps have become steeper as we have bounded up them in the 20th century.

Even the advances made during my children’s living memories are staggering, particularly in communications. Mobile phones, personal computers, the internet, satellite television etc have changed the world in just a couple of decades and the pace is so fast that it is hard to keep up.

Alcock and BrownBut I wonder if this generation will be the first to witness the death of a technology? Not one that is simply replaced, like thatching or dry-stone walling, one that reaches an evolutionary plateau and has nowhere else to go but backwards.

What made me think of this is something that happened 91 years ago today. In fact, almost to the minute that this post was posted:

At 8:40am on 15 June, 1919, Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Brown crash-landed their Vickers Vimy biplane in a  Connemara peat bog, close to Clifden. They had completed the first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic in just sixteen hours, almost four days faster than the fastest sea-crossing.

They were helped in this endeavour by a 30mph tailwind and only managed it because Brown climbed out on the wing to clear the snow from the air intakes of the engines.

What Alcock and Brown had  “invented” was intercontinental travel even if it would be some decades before passengers could concentrate on complimentary packets of peanuts and the in-flight movie, rather than wiping ice from their goggles and wondering whether their Biggles jackets would be warm enough.

Less than a century later, A Place in the Sun is looking  to find people a weekend retreat in Florida, Australia is just round the corner {albeit quite a big one}, stag and hen parties are held in Prague instead of Blackpool, no-frills airlines, we’ve got Richard Branson and  Ryan Air and we get really pissed off if a cloud of volcano ash or a BA strike threatens to ruin our holiday plans.

But for how much longer will the planes keep flying? The deep-sea drilling for oil that has gone so disastrously wrong in the US shows just how desperate we’re getting. In little more than the century it has taken to develop air travel, the fuel to keep it in the air is rapidly diminishing.

The Peak Oil scenario is rapidly becoming a reality with little sign yet of what will take its place as far as air travel is concerned. ACARE is researching ways of reducing noise and pollution, but the skies will be noise and emission free if the fuel tanks run dry.

Will my kids or their kids be able to say: “Back in my day we ‘ad to ‘ave breakfast in London, lunch in New York and dinner in LA, not gallivantin’ off to Bolton, Burnley and Blackburn like you kids today.”

See also Stupid White Men, 4 Nov 2004.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

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