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

1336, when Petarch climbed a mountain just to experience the view

Modernism poses the unanswered question: is that which benefits the self ultimately to the benefit of all humankind and the world it lives in?

I’m with the OP. Somewhere in the 20’s-30’s (at least in the cities).

Cars have completely replaced horses in the streets, electricity, indoor plumbing and telephones are ubiquitous, movies with sound, mass produced and marketed consumer goods available in department stores etc.

And I have to agree. I’m 70 and the world hasn’t truly changed in my lifetime. I do the same things as a I did before the Internet, only easier and faster. I rate the various social movements that are striving to give equality to blacks, Asians, gays, women, and other historically oppressed groups as more game changing.

I remember 1968 well. Many of us honestly thought that was the start of a new world. It is in many ways. But it took fifty years of fighting too many of the same battles. And designating 1968 as the start diminishes the civil rights work of the previous decade. The mass exodus from cities to the suburbs in the 1950s also changed the country more and more quickly than even the 60s.

If I had to name one single event as the start of modern, rather than the conglomeration that’s really needed, I’d nominate the telegraph. In one instant it broke the old rules by connecting two distant places instantaneously by the use of a new technology. True, it was preceded by loads of other signaling systems that attempted to conquer distance, but the psychology of the world seemed to shift in a new way. I recommend Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet for a great account of how world-changing it was.

I have often observed that if you put someone from the 1950s into a modern house, not that much would be incomprehensible. Everyone in the US had electricity, telephones; most had a car and TV. Yes, computers would be odd, but the basic idea would be known and networking would be a logical extension. There were washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, etc. But if you took someone from 1900 and put them into a 1950s home, very little would be familiar. Electricity was known but not widespread. Only wealthy people actually had telephone service (1% of households in 1900). TV would have seemed like magic (not to mention radio). I would put the cutoff date around 1930.

I have seen them too, which brings me again to what I was hinting at before: not only are they still modern, but how advanced is modern or contemporary life when animals are exploited like that, people have it arguably worse and still waste their lives and souls on dangerous or tedious jobs, anyone is deprived of human rights or basic health and autonomy, my robot buddy is not answering (and making) all my calls and e-mails and bringing me what I really need to see, etc. All of that is still views through a very narrow (and distorted) prism, but I hope you can see what I am getting at.

Not really. “Modern” <> “good” and I said it would vary by place, and I’m willing to listen to what your idea of what modern is - it’s why I asked. So you tell me that horse and wagon doesn’t mean “unmodern” to you - great, so tell me what does mean unmodern to you and where the switchover point in history (in your location or in the world).

Certainly there are many that do not have many technologies/amenities - pretty much true, no matter what you regard as modern. And what is viewed as modern may vary from place to place (again, it’s why I asked where the switchover point was to others). Many people are exploited - don’t dispute. That is not an unmodern thing in the world, and I admit that.

But in the context of where you are or of the world as a whole (and I very much acknowledge the US-Centric board and thread), where is your line of separating the past into a foreign country? One that isn’t somewhat familiar? If you don’t have one, then that’s pretty much all there is for you to say. If you do have one, talk about it. That’s what the thread is for.

@MrDibble and I saw people hauling stuff around town on horse-drawn wagons now, and not because they were trying to be deliberately retro. You are saying that you find this (varying from place to place) aspect of contemporary life “unmodern”— and I wholeheartedly agree! And am amplifying this to say that most of the things you take for granted around you, including the fundamental bases of culture and society, are just as, in fact much more, thoroughly unmodern from a hypothetical futurological point of view.

If I was not clear enough about it in my first post, what I meant was (without making any definitive historical statements) that if you are not hunting and gathering, but are able to sit at home in your nice big city and pursue your abstract pursuits then that is already a somewhat familiar lifestyle which is achievable (in theory) even before the Bronze Age.

Yeah, I can get that perception.

The problem with any post-modernism is that you have to add a “post” in every new generation.

The nostalgia over the 1950s makes me believe the 1960s was the decade of drastic change and the start of the modern era. Societal norms was a lot more traditional, structural and local. Economic reality was a more prosperous and hopeful period of time because it was not long after WW2 in which the economies of Europe and other nations in the world were ravaged by the war and their infrastructure destroyed whereas America was able to pull away as a superpower. And cultural entertainment was still more family friendly. Things were changing in the 1950s with Elvis and other new free-spirited rebels but it took a drastic acceleration of pace in the 1960s culminating in a decade of huge organized grassroots movements for change.

I was born in the mid 60s and grew up in the 70s and 80s. I think about this in terms of having the opportunity to go back in time and living in a certain era, so I think I could easily go back to the late 1800s to early 1900s and do just fine. But practically speaking, I wouldn’t want to go back to a time before modern dentistry and effective local anesthesia. Sure the idea of living in the 17th century may be doable, up until I needed dental work. Then fuck that, get me back to today.

The basic mechanics of meeting the physical needs of life are timeless. And, we are even told that cave persons used page flipping techniques for video presentation.

However, an individual transplanted from the fifties to my home might figure out the oven but not the induction stove top or microwave, could not turn on or operate the TV, could not enter, start or shift the car, would not have any idea of where to start using the phone or how to answer it and would be looking, unsuccessfully, for a road map, the phone book, the newspaper, the milk delivery and perhaps cash.

He/she would not understand why everybody is walking around looking at their right hands and why people at the airport had typewriters in their laps and no paper. Oh, and at the ‘service’ station nobody came out to put gas in the car and check the water, oil and tire pressure.

The person from the fifties would miss the grand auto emporiums that had the new Cadillac, in the window, on an elegant rotating base between marble pillars. He/she would expect to shop in a well filled Department Store or Super Market. The third world, cement floored markets of Costco and Walmart would be repulsive.

That may not be enough to define an ‘era’. But is is on top of basic changes in our social infrastructure. In the fifties the percent of the population involved in agriculture dropped below 10%, we were moving toward being a debtor nation, WW2 patriotism was waning and our identity was beginning to fracture. And the semiconductor revolution was about to change everything.

I’d say the fifties were the turning point.

The latter half of the nineteenth century, when romanticism was shattered by the rise of mechanized warfare, coupled with the emergence of the “horsemen” (i.e., like the four horsemen), such as Darwin, Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud.

Books to read include Conrad’s Modern Times, Modern Places.

In 2019, I met a ‘time-traveler’ from 2002. Interesting experience. Here is what he said was the difference between then and “now”:

Lance gets it. He doesn’t understand it, but he gets that the way we communicate to each other has dramatically shifted.

Did y’all read about the time my daughter and her friends used their cell phones to prevent a rape? Probably not, it was my least successful OP of the past few years, garnering only 6 replies. It was pretty disjointed, to be honest.

I also started another thread about the nation’s “nahployment crisis”, noting that much of the reluctance to go back to $8/hour jobs was because cell phones opened up opportunities to people who would not have had those opportunities in an earlier era:

I understand that the OP is looking for ones personal opinion, and while I used a historical argument, that doesn’t mean there are personal observations that went into this. I paid off my divorce using mobile technology, in a manner which couldn’t be possible in 2006. I modify client documents while sitting in parking lots, something which wasn’t possible in 2006. My teen daughter gets word of a nasty situation as old as time itself and utilizes technology unavailable when she was born to prevent it.

So, my argument was historic based, but the personal anecdata is there as well. Mechanizing tasks is definitely ‘modern’, no doubt about it. But even in 2004 I couldn’t Uber (ride or drive), edit documents on my phone for my clients, prevent rapes by making hundreds of others aware of a single persons intentions, or have a conversation with people like Mark Cuban, Martina Navratilova, or even Darryl from Storage Wars, and this is all because of the truly modern shift which has occurred - the ability to reach hundreds of millions of people directly.

And a world where I can’t do the above isn’t really modern.

Again, IMHO.

There are many possible answers of course but I agree that the end of WW1 and the decade afterwards stands out. What makes it unique is that so much was changing on so many different fronts. You have massive geopolitical change with the collapse of multiple empires and the rise of the Soviet Union, you also have radio, movies, women’s suffrage, general relativity/quantum mechanics and rapid changes in fashion.

In fact it just occurred to me that this might explain why the 1918 flu pandemic had so little lasting cultural impact. So much was changing so fast that it perhaps didn’t seem that massive an event to the people of the day.

The “modern” era for me begins pretty much around the time I was born- 1961. By the time I came of age the world was a lot different than it had been just ten years before my birth. Things that seemed antiquated to me included:

  • vacuum tubes in anything but a television
  • deadly childhood diseases
  • propeller airplanes
  • operator-assisted phone calls instead of direct dialing
  • ocean liner travel
  • the moon as a symbol of unattainableness
  • black and white movies
  • the old “main feature, B-movie, cartoon short and newsreel” cinema format
  • reverent respect for police as noble guardians of public safety
  • segregation
  • girdles on anyone but elderly women
  • dowdy-looking dresses

The digital revolution has been a second chapter of my life, with computers and connectivity changing or replacing a lot of stuff. I can only imagine how antiquated looking things like printed dictionaries and encyclopedias or libraries as central data repositories are.

The post-modern era, by definition, hasn’t happened yet.

And I don’t think that nostalgia for the 50s specifically is driven by the rate of changes being notably higher then, but mostly just by being when the Baby Boomer generation was children.

I would go with World War II.

In 1939, armies still had horse cavalry, and used horse-drawn wagons to haul supplies. In 1945, the victors’ armies were all mechanized.

Before the war, my state had more horses than automobiles, and more outhouses than flush toilets. After the war, things were very different.

World War I cracked the colonial empires. World War II broke them.

The Baby Boomers like to take credit for the civil rights movement, but the politicians who wrote the civil rights laws, and the police and judges who enforced them, were largely WW2 and Korean War veterans. Harry Truman, who desegregated the armed forces, was a WW1 veteran.

Atlantic and Pacific. Whole-case shopping. There were stores for people who shopped cheap before Costco and Walmart.

Yeah and so were the politicians who fought them tooth and nail.