The meme gets it wrong

One of the posts getting shared a lot on FB recently says that if someone from the 1950s showed up today, the most mind-boggling thing to them would be that we have devices in our pockets that can access all the world’s knowledge—and we use them to look at funny cat pictures.
A cute joke. But not even close to true. I don’t think anything in the tech world would astonish them as much as the changes in the social world.
Consider:
•In the 1950s, women’s role was to stay home and let men be the breadwinner (even though in reality lots of women were working) and protector. Prior to John Kerry’s appointment, the last three secretaries of state were women. Women work as cops, MPs, doctors, now front-line troops and for millions of Americans this isn’t even controversial.
•Gays were considered sick, disturbed people and also criminals. Now gay marriage is becoming just one more relationship. Homosexuality is legal and being out is common.
•Segregation as a law of the land is gone (even if we’re far from happily integrated). Not only that, black/white intermarriage is legal everywhere and for millions of people not even controversial. By contrast, I seriously think Obama being the product of what used to be called miscegenation would freak some Southerners out as much as the fact he’s black.
•Women having babies alone is no longer scandalous. Using birth control is, for most Americans, not a controversial act (no matter how much the right-to-life minority screams).
•Men staying home with the kids are still a minority (as far as I know) but it happens. And even when the man works outside the house, there are far fewer couples where the man just gives orders and the woman obeys (as used to be the ideal). Men change diapers. They’re in the delivery room when their kids pop out. They assume a share of child care. Women still do most of the work, on average, but that men do as much as they do is a seismic shift … and yet to millions of Americans it’s still normal.
•Smoking, which a majority of American adults did, is illegal in offices, hospitals, restaurants and countless other places.
•Rape is taken a lot more seriously as a crime. Spousal abuse and sexual harassment are taken seriously (remember my jarring reaction to reading Nackles?).
•Women aren’t virgins before marriage. And they don’t pretend to be. Even a perfectly respectable Good Girl can deliver good oral sex or practice the Kama Sutra.
•Unions have largely vanished. The government’s talking about slashing Social Security instead of increasing it. Instead of guaranteed pensions from your employer, you have to trust the stock market.
•The difference between rich and poor is several hundred times greater than it was 60 years ago.
As the Paleofuture blog has pointed out, the early 1960s series The Jetsons had no hesitation presenting a future in which technlogy has transformed everything, but the nuclear family (man works, woman shops, daughter goes boy crazy, mom who doesn’t work still needs a maid) remains identical (given that they used an equally conventional family in The Flintstones, I doubt this was based on any deep analysis of the world that’s coming, but still). Even with the civil-rights movement under way, there was no hint of how much seismic change was ahead.
I’m not saying everyone in the fifties would hate today. Some people would be thrilled. Others would be thrilled by parts of it, outraged by others. But I don’t think any of them would have seen it coming.

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