I was born in 1946, part of the postwar “baby boom”.
As it turns out, I was born into the most privileged society in the world, at the height of its privilege. As a white male born into a middle class family, I was a beneficiary of most of that privilege.
Although it is hard to believe now, by the early 1950s, one man, working full time, at minimum wage, could support a family of four. High quality health care was generally available, and affordable, for most people throughout the nation, urban or rural. Free public education was easily available for most people, and well funded.
To be sure, there were profound systemic problems-it was not Eden.
One man could support a family of four, but not one woman. Women then, as throughout most of human history, did the bulk of the everyday work of households, and their work was little valued, and rarely paid. Education opportunities were best for those of European heritage. While racial oppression was beginning to ease, it was still widespread, although class distinctions were at probably their lowest since the founding of the country.
But this piece is not about these inequities, important though they were, and are. This piece is about technology in our daily lives, and the profound changes that can happen in one lifetime.
I was born before there was television; movies were in black and white. Recorded music was on records, which were large, brittle, inconvenient, and monophonic. There were no electronics to speak of: no video games, no personal computers, no cell phones, no iPhones, no CDs, no DVDs, and no Bluetooth.
And the only people traveling by airplane were the military, businessmen and the wealthy.
It occurred to me the other day that most of us have little concept of what a post-petroleum world will be like. Petroleum is unique as an energy source in that it is energy dense (that is, a lot of energy is contained in a small volume), can be stored and transported safely at normal temperatures and pressures, and is easily converted to usable energy. Each of these qualities is important; which is most important varies depending on the use to which we wish to put it.
In airplanes, the critical quality is energy density. Weight and volume is important in flying. The more the fuel weighs, and the larger the space it takes up, the less the payload can be (fewer people) or the shorter the trip between fueling stops. In practical terms, this means that soon airplane flight will again be rare-a mode of transport used only by the military, some business people, and the wealthy.
It means that in my lifetime I will have lived through the entire time where airplane flight was available to the average person.
I wonder what else will disappear? Since nearly all plastics are petroleum based, what will we do without abundant inexpensive plastics? What about cheap and easy transportation of people and goods?
What do you think?