What would surprise someone from 1959?

Say I take my time machine and travel back 50 years. I grab an average man (or woman) off the street and whisk them forward to 2009, the distant science-fiction future.

What do you think they’d find surprising about America in the 21st century? What about our technology, our social customs, our entertainment, our politics, would they find amazing and maybe even baffling?

I think they would be absolutely shocked by most of what’s on television. Curse words, minorities, homosexuals, bikinis, the music - and that’s just Lady Gaga!

That, despite ceasing production in 1957, TV is still airing I Love Lucy.

Ronald Reagan, an actor who was just beginning to become active in politics has served two terms as President of the United States. The current President is a black man. Computers have become small and affordable and are used for everything under the sun, from communication to running complicated machinery. People still watch movies, television, and listen to music made in 1959.

Just about everything really. The 1959 person could adapt, after all, lots of people made the transition in much slower motion but it would take time. Technology like the internet and web as well as the success of women’s rights and everything that is wrapped up in that would probably be the most striking differences right away. Gadgets like cell phones aren’t just built around technology, they have their own cultural norms as well so it would take time for the person to get used it but no one is forced to use those.

Music would be very different. Some other technology like medicine would be a pleasant suprise at first but the lack of other predicted technologies like flying cars would be equally as striking. Transportation on planes, trains, and automobiles really isn’t all that different than it was in 1959 in the U.S. even though they are all safer and more reliable now and cheaper too in some ways especially for plane travel. The interstate highways are mostly built now so that makes long distance travel much easier but most of the older roads are still there.

There are a few things that would make a person’s head explode if they made the instant leap but lots of others that would not. A men’s suit is still a men’s suit for example. Life is faster paced and more complicated now so that probably would not be a welcome surprise but lots of people raised in the current environment don’t really understand it either and still manage to survive. The diversity of and availability of food is much, much better even since the 1980’s. Conspicuous consumption has increased a tremendous amount with a corresponding increase in workload. A large percentage of houses would seem like absolute mansions to a 1959 person when the average house size was only about 1100 sq feet and the number of kids running around has greatly decreased. There has been a massive increase in the number of college grads and a very large decrease in manufacturing and other well-paying blue-collar trades so the social demographics would be much different.

It would be a huge change but the 1959 person could still probably manage Ok in a few months if they had a good person as a guide.

Boobs on display. Really. If you’ve ever seen someone (ok, a guy) come from a more repressed culture, they don’t know what to do, or where to look.

The fact that a black man and white woman were competing to be president in 2008, and both had much better chances than the white military veteran.

The tolerance of homosexuality would also be surprising. I’m sure all the electronics we have everywhere would also intimidate them.

Political shifts would probably be surprising in the 1950s the south was mostly democratic and the northeast and west were more republican. Now the south is almost pure republican and the west and northeast are almost pure democratic. It’d be like going to 2059 and finding New England and California are GOP strongholds and Alabama the heart of the democratic party.

Probably the advances in robotics too. If I see a guy who has lost his leg walking with a robotic leg, I do not find it surprising. but I’m sure someone from 1959 would find it pretty weird.

Food selections too would probably take some getting used to. A grocery store and restaurants have far more options than they used too.

The fact that China is now on the way to becoming a global superpower would probably be weird too. I’m guessing/assuming it’d be like finding out 50 years from now that various African nations had bonded together and become an economic and political superpower.

General Motors files bankruptcy.

I think the 1959 person might know the old saying related to that perfectly and say :smack:, “They were right”.

Women are allowed to have their own credit cards.

And get loans from banks, without male co-signers.

The complete lack of flying cars.

Going into a restaurant and not being asked “Smoking or Non-smoking?”

I don’t think 1959 restaurants had non-smoking sections as a rule. I think the surprise would going into a restaurant (or bus station, or train station, or public restroom, or any number of other places) and not having ash trays everywhere.

I was a teenager in 1959, and I agree with everybody’s answers. The changes would be amazing. But I think the #1 surprise would be that the Soviet Union collapsed without a war. I don’t think one single 1959 person would have predicted that.

Also . . . I happened to turn on CNN a few weeks ago, and there were five economists discussing the recession. They were all 30-something attractive women. In 1959 they would have been male geezers.

Everybody smoked everywhere in 1959!

To be a bit more serious for a bit, they might be taken aback by the evolutionary, not revolutionary, nature of the modern passenger jet. The 707 was just rolling off the lines in 1959, and they already had the DeHavilland Comet (plagued as it was by fatal bugs, now morphed into the British ASW Nimrod bomber). The double decker A380 might elicit some ahhhs, but the absolute lack of progress in the speed dept. and the overall “look” being basically the same (yes, lots of fancy stuff under the hood) might leave them a bit nonplussed. As would, on a similar note, the fact that the only consistently-occupied extraterrestrial outpost we have right now is the ISS.

It’s the stuff which hasn’t (seemingly) changed much, opposite from what all those 50’s SF shows & novels might have indicated, that probably would amaze them more.

Stores full of high-end wine…from Australia, Chile, and South Africa.

I agree. Airliner and even private plane technology from that time period aren’t even considered truly antique if the 1959 person was allowed to bring something like that with them. You could make a few avionics upgrades and be good to go and even that may not be strictly necessary. Parts and mechanics for those types of planes are still around and not that unusual. There are lots of them still in service around the world from that time-period and even much earlier (like the DC-3 from the 1930’s). Airliner technology is slow to evolve except in the avionics arena that occurred because of GPS in the past few years but there still isn’t much realistic hope of widespread supersonic flight let alone hypersonic based space transportation in the next couple of decades.

News of a successful moon landing would be really cool to a 1959 person until they find out that there is absolutely nothing there and little reason to go back even though we will at…some point…for some reason. Jet packs have been invented and they work for a skilled operator but they are absolutely useless for anything other than stunts.

I think the 1959 person would be incredibly impressed with cable TV. I get several hundred channels 24/7 on a very large screen. Anyone can relate to that easily without any training. They got 3 channels at most on a very small black and white television that required frequent trips to the repair shop and cost an insane amount of money for what they got compared to today.

They’d say: “Huh! Ike was right!”

That would probally be the most shocking social change. Lot’s of people forsaw racial & sexual equality decades ago, but gay pride? The very idea of same-sex marriage would be incompressible to them “So gay men are allowed to marry lesbians? :confused:” Even after they managed to grasp the concept that in some partys of the country two men/two women can legally marry eachother (& it’s a serious top for discussion elsewhere) they probally be shocked that we don’t have legalized polygamy. That was widely predicted in speculative fiction.