When is the beginning of the "modern era" to you?

Just thought about this (as I do from time to time). Now, I’m not talking about a historian’s definition. I’m talking about what is the earliest to you that you think of as society that you can see and think of as something contemporaneous instead of historical. Or maybe just what qualifies as modern enough to be modern. But mostly, when is the past no longer a foreign country - when is it more recognizable to you?

I expect it is going to vary wildly by age and by location.

For me, the absolute earliest is the 1920s, but more likely the 1930s. And that’s in the cities. What first made me think of this was reading and early where Superboy appears. I read (a digital copy of) Action Comics #1 ages ago. It’s in the 1930s, and no prob. But seeing teenage Clark driving a horse-drawn wagon was just off-putting. Strange. Superheroes do not belong to that era. Of course, cars already existed by the time it was set (as a practical device and not just a rich guy’s plaything), and horses were used, especially in rural areas, for a good while longer. The urban/rural divide was just ginormous in terms of running water, electricity, and other amenities. I know that. I’ve read about it. But those stories (early Superboy and early Superman) belong to very different eras to me, and even though both were decades before I was born, one seems very different than the other.

So much of this is, for me, more about how I think of the eras, rather than what the really were, and I am aware of that.

I do think a large part of it is that I could watch old movies from the 1940s when I was a kid (though only occasionally did). I’ve listed to some radio shows from the 1930s and 1940s. I have read some old comic books. And, while there are massive changes, the world looks so much more recognizable to me than earlier. And by the 1940, many non-rich Americans had refrigerators (where they had electricity), which is a big deal. Cars looked more like cars (old cars, but still cars, not like the 1910s earlier 1920s ones). That’s when the world looks like my world, just in the past, instead of like a foreign country. I’ve never watched or listened to anything from the 1920s. Read some Agatha Christie, but that’s about it.

Another point might be post WWII. More suburbs, and a huge increase in consumerism. Tons of contemporary media, new geopolitical realities and norms for the United States (a superpower, Cold War, etc.) that would shape the world into my childhood.

After that, I just sort of fall into the thinking of each decade by stereotype, with the ones I am old enough to remember being “not that long ago” and the media from the others being “old.”

I could definitely see the end of the Cold War (or it’s ebbing) as a shifting point for those a bit older than me or my age, but from different places.

I can see 9/11 as a turning point for “modern” for younger people. Similar timeframe for the ubiquitousness of cellphones. But I just don’t know what, that is newer, that might be considered as a shift to modern times, at least for an American, I don’t know. It’s too old for me.

It’s different for different things.

It differs depending upon which sports you’re talking about.
It differs if you are referring to the Olympics.
It differs if you are talking about mergers and acquisitions.
It differs if you are talking about medicine and differing fields of orthopedics and brain research.

Around 1995 (I was born in '78).

The rise of the internet and cellphones ushered in an era of ubiquitous communication and access to information. Before roughly then, to find some information, you had to go to a library, or find a phonebook, or talk to someone, or go through some other long process. Now, you don’t.

People are also in constant contact with others. Every movie with some plot point revolving around someone going on an adventure just to get information to someone, or problems arising because two parties can’t communicate, now appear laughable. It might as well be the same era as people spending months on a boat just to cross the Atlantic. It’s the kind of thing that you’d have to explain to kids, and they still wouldn’t really get it.

This isn’t a hard transition of course; the internet existed before 1995, and it took a while after that for really everything to go online, but it was fairly obvious at that point that it wasn’t going to be some niche thing that only nerds used. And not everyone got a cellphone instantly, but they were getting pretty popular around then (in large part because they became pocketable).

Any transition before I was born falls into the same vague category as far as I’m concerned, and nothing else within my lifetime compares to the rise of instant info/comms (9/11 doesn’t even come close), so I’m going with that.

My view is that it depends entirely on the context of what is being discussed, as already mentioned. For rapidly evolving areas of science or some social reforms, the modern era might be as recent as the past 10 or 20 years. For science in general, one might regard it as going back to 1620 with the publication of Francis Bacon’s principle of inductive reasoning that became the basis of the modern scientific method. Or one might want to limit the definition of the modern era of science to the 20th century when science and engineering began advancing in exponential leaps. One could make the case that the modern era of philosophy and political thought goes back to the ancient Greeks. So it definitely depends entirely on what the discussion is about.

I must disagree with most of these replies. If you are worried about gadgets, I cannot help you except to point out that it does not take much imagination to see that we are not yet living in a “modern” era, not even remotely close, but, besides that, I figure that if you are able to live a normal life in a city then that counts as a modern lifestyle, so by 3000 BC in the right country you should be pretty comfortable.

I would agree that the world becomes essentially modern after WWI. The internet is important but it doesn’t compare to the introduction of radio, airplanes, and air conditioning, women’s suffrage, the end of the corset, electric appliances, cities having more than half the population, full-length movies, cars replacing horses, and a sexual revolution. The difference between Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle is immense even though their characters overlapped in time.

I’m sure that age has a lot to do with what is considered modern. I became a teen in the 1960s and I thought that 1969 was a different country than 1959, and in many ways it was. But looking back, other than a stereo system I had nothing fundamentally different than as a kid. And I spent my teens reading Christie and her contemporaries and it never occurred to me that they lived in a different world the way the Victorian Era of Holmes was different. They were still alive and publishing for that matter.

@DPRK, as a historian all I can say is that you’re a very good mathematician!

But that’s just one point on an arbitrary scale of magnitude. You identified cities as important. Ok, but why is that a better threshold of modernity than the development of agriculture? Or the evolution of humans? Or eukaryotic life?

Everyone gets to have their own answer, by the conditions of the OP (and it’s pretty clear they have a focus on more recent developments).

The modern era starts for me somewhere around 1890, when players like John McGraw learned to perfect the hit-and-run and scientific baseball came into vogue, plus the demise of underhand pitching as well.

Some might point to the end of the deadball in 1920, but I’ll go with late 19th-century developments.

As mentioned by others, it depends a lot on what you’re talking about. A general “modern era” without any qualifiers would start somewhere around the beginning of the 20th Century based on modernist art movements at the same time as a lot of technology being developed that’s fundamental to modern life, even if it’s progressed a lot since then. Radio and the internet are just matters of degree - it’s long distance fast communication that’s the real modernizer. Similarly with the automobile and the airplane revolutionizing ideas of what was possible in travel technology. It’s hard to put an exact date to it, as everything builds on everything else, and it was a slow process.

Surely I was not intending a probative historical statement or thesis; I just like big cities! The OP asked about recognizable lifestyles.

I’d put it at 2000 (and I’m much older). This might be because I’m from another country, where the internet was slightly slower to take hold, but also because I put ‘the beginning’ at the point where continuous connection started to take hold, rather than dial up.

There is another marker that still takes my breath away: the availability of cheap storage. I just bought a 4TB disk for AUD $99. In the 80’s, that would have cost ~ 40 million $AUD at $10/MB. That ‘modern era’ started when HD prices fell to around the same level as FD prices, ~$1 /MB. My Grandfather (who took the sleigh out because his dad wouldn’t let him drive the car) must have felt the same way about the replacement of horses by cars.

Hey, I love cities too. (Well, not New York. I’m an Upstater.) But the OP wrote “something contemporaneous instead of historical.” I’d argue that cities from 3000 BC, already probably a couple thousand years after they emerged, are much closer to New York in, say, 1776 than that city is to anything modern. I just want to play nice with the OP.

Broadly, the Historian in me just wants say 1500 AD, but in general conversation when people say “modern” I take it to mean the Atomic Age (beginning in 1945). Not only does it correspond with the end of WWII and the beginning of an unprecedented era of prosperity and population boom, it just seems that people at that time had a much better idea of what to expect the future to be like than they did prior to the war. Most of our social and technological advances rose out of proposals first seriously considered in the years immediately after the war.

I am going with 1900-20. Someone from 1890 or so would be amazed and bewildered by today’s technologies and mores. Woman’s suffrage was by no means a done deal in 1890. Electricity was being studied and new inventions were coming out all the time but no one knew which inventions would really work. Cars, medicine, travel, law, business practices, exploration, all changed dramatically from 1890 to 1920. Certainly there were outhouses in New York state, horse drawn wagons in rural areas, race relations were still abominable, airplanes were still a novelty, but the outlines of today’s world could be seen. Yes, there was no internet, but there were telephones. The idea that information could travel from a room in one city to a room in another city was qualitatively different than anything imagined before. Even telegrams-you had to go down to the telegraph office, fill out a message form, have it transmitted to another telegraph office where it was transcribed and handed to a delivery person. It was just a faster way of sending a letter. Telephones were a qualitative difference. Like so many things. Public health measures, sewage treatment, public water systems all went from a few big cities to expected components of any significant town or city. A person from 1920 would be impressed by how much telephones have improved, how fast and safe airplanes are, how healthy people were, how clean cities were, but he would recognize those things. An average educated person from 1890 would not have seen any of those things outside works of fiction. That defines the modern era to me. The internet is wonderful, almost as life changing as the car. Not as much as public health measures.

It’s a great question!

Broadly, with no qualifiers, I’d say “The mid-late Edwardian era” (so sometime around 1905 to 1910) - cars and motorbikes weren’t just novelties for the landed gentry and rich industrialists, recognisable aircraft existed (at least towards the end of the decade), electricity wasn’t a novelty (at least in the cities), the shift away from predominantly rural societies was continuing, and overseas travel (via steamships) was routine.

In a “Time traveller from today going to that era wouldn’t feel too incredibly lost”, I’m inclined to say mid-late 1970s, and from a purely technological standpoint I’m inclined to say 2000 onwards, but to be honest the change in tech in the past 20 years has just been astonishing - people were still using CRT monitors and TVs in 2000, and a high-end smartphone today is more powerful than the most powerful gaming PC available in 2000.

The Modern Era starts when you’ve finished heavier-than-air flight and radio, and can start researching ecology, rocketry, fission, and computers.

On a more serious note, what’s usually called “Modern Physics” is generally reckoned to start with Einstein’s “Anno Mirabiles”, 1905.

I’ll allow some wiggle room. My peer group probably started a bit earlier than typical, plus being in the US helped. Maybe half my friends had an email address and home web access by '95.

My dial-up connection was continuous :slight_smile: . Probably helped by there being no per-minute charges for local calls. I had my own phone line so I left it connected almost 24/7.

From a historical standpoint, I’d say the invention of the printing press.

However, my mother was born in 1916. Growing up in the Ozarks, she did not have running water; sewage; a telephone, electricity (the last two came in just about the time she left home), a refrigerator; or a washing machine. Cooking was done on a wood stove (for which they chopped wood), and once a week the family drew water from the well, heated it on the stove, and took baths in the kitchen. Since I can’t imagine life like that being “modern” I’m going to go with 1940.

What makes you think life isn’t like that in places of the world right now?

When just about everyone had _____.

But I can’t decide what goes in the blank: electricity? cars? TVs? smartphones?