When did we become modern? There are many answers. Good answers and explanations. And they change depending on what we mean by that term and the context. But for me it was the year 1961. That was the thinking of my ten-year-old self as our family walked across a parking lot at Bull Shoals Dam in Arkansas that summer. "This is the first modern year" I said in my mind. It was my own idiosyncratic take. Why would I have thought that? What did my young mind mean by that?
1) There were several technological advancements that occurred in 1961. It was the year that humans travelled to space for the first time. And that made an impression. But that was not the only reason. Every year brought significant technological achievements. Already, by that mature age I expected technology to continually advance. The explosion of TV ownership occurred in the early 1950’s. I don’t remember not having a television. As far back as I can remember, science and science fiction shows of TV fascinated me. Upon reflection it is clear that I was programmed to believe in a future of fantastic gadgetry. I clearly remember a toy robot advertised when I was only four and desiring to have it. A robot is both an object of the here and now and a symbol of ever advancing performance and automation
2) Even the many and varied cowboy shows taught me that life in the recent past had been different. A number of my great-grandparents were still alive in the fifties. They were born in the 1870’s and 80’s. I knew life had been and still was less technologically advanced for them than it was for me and my family. I remember their outhouses. Some never learned to drive. I remember getting water from a manual hand water pump outside one of their houses rather than from an indoor faucet. There were many and varied cowboy shows on television in the fifties and sixties and they conveyed a different world. My impression was that my great grandparents were born during the cowboy days. Reflecting on that fact, I knew they experienced great technological changes in their lives, perhaps more than any previous generation. For example, telephones, automobile, and airplanes arrived, effectively, in their adulthoods. We could easily draw up a much longer list. Because of this, I expected the march of technology to continue in my life as well.
3) There was another reason for thinking and feeling these things. We had moved less than a year earlier. The house was new, the first one for our young family. Our previous home dated to the 19th century. The octogenarian next door neighbor had been born in an earlier version of it. That old house was enchanting when we first moved there, with its push button light switches and other odd features. In earlier days its water came from a cistern which by our time was filled in and covered. It provided a contrast to the new one. After just a few weeks in the new home came the Christmas break. As usual, we trekked to Michigan to spend a couple of weeks with grandparents. Breaks in space and time can be occasions of transition and new beginnings. It was this time. Coming back to that new house with its new look and smell to begin a new year filled me with the expectation that the future would be exciting and promising.
4) What You Are Is Where You Were When is a video series by Morris Massey I viewed in the 1980's. In it he explained that a person's gut level values are programmed into them at about age 10. The way life was when you were ten years old is how life is supposed to be. He then explained how that explains differences in outlook and behavior between the generation that arrived at that age during the Great Depression and the Baby Boomers. In my case, my view of 1961 defined how life was going to be.