A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Everybody knows about the Stone Age, the Ice Age, the Age of Enlightenment and all the other designated periods of human history. Unfortunately, most people don’t give a rat’s ass about any of them and generally believe that history is just a feeble attempt by old men with bowties to bore the bejesus out of us. While this is true, history is also a living thing, and since you’re reading this, you are a living part of it. For example, if you were born before 1977, you’ve already lived through 3 distinct historical eras.
The Age of Elvis — (Not to be confused with the Space Age which happened simultaneously but was artificially created by World War II German scientists who didn’t want to go to prison for being Nazis.) The Age of Elvis began when Elvis Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. (Sputnik was a year later.) It was characterized by young people gathering in social groups to listen to music, drink and/or take drugs, dance with each other, talk to each other, touch, laugh and generally enjoy themselves. The Age of Elvis died when Donna Summers’ soliloquy to sex, “Love to Love You, Baby” moaned its way to the top of the charts in 1975. After all, that little disco ditty is best enjoyed by one, two or perhaps three people in single-minded privacy.
The Age of Lucas — This period began on May 25th, 1977 when George Lucas released Star Wars. Since the last human, Eugene Cernan, had left the moon in 1972 — with no hope of anyone ever returning — Lucas figured (quite rightly) that people were a lot more interested in watching space on a movie screen than actually taking the time and trouble to go there. He built a virtual universe that earned more money than NASA spent in the last years of the Apollo program, exploring the real one. Along with a few of his movie-making buddies (Spielberg, Scorsese and Coppola) Lucas changed our society from doers to watchers and made video viewing more than just an occasional leisure activity. The Age of Lucas abruptly ended on May 19th, 1999 when George released The Phantom Menace, a piece-of-junk film that gave the finger to an entire generation of fans. But by that time, they all just shrugged and paid their money.
The Age of Jobs and Zuckerberg — By the end of the last century, the Space Shuttle had run 95 missions and wasn’t even news anymore. People were much more interested in creating a personal playlist for their iPods (introduced in 2001) or building a personal fan base on Facebook, the one-screen-fits-all virtual cocktail party, created in 2004. Nobody cared that music had become a one person/one headset activity (unless you wanted somebody else’s gunk on your earbuds) and that many of our “friends” were people we didn’t actually know. The truth is 50 years after our grandparents danced together in the rock n’ roll living rooms, basements and backyards of their time, the party was over. Since then, our time has been measured out in bits, bytes and bandwidth, and now we’re very much in danger of having those weird guys with bowties I mentioned earlier, discussing the Age of Jobs and Zuckerberg as the era in history when humans finally abandoned human contact entirely.
However, history marches on, and one of these days, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is going to launch some tourists into space — and man are they ever going to send back some selfies that might change the world!