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

Anti-biotics. the 1940’s. They radically changed medicine.

I am with all those who voted WW2.

The politicians were dragged into the movement kicking and screaming, always steps behind the activists. The actual majority of civil rights leaders were younger than Truman and older than boomers. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 was a very great achievement but it happened because of people a generation younger than Johnson.

The problem with everyone saying “cellphones” is that I believe they’re a transitional technology. Within a few decades, or less, they will no longer be something we hold in our hands but rather somethin implanted directly into our skulls, blurring and ultimately obliviating the difference between our own thoughts and those of the rest of humanity. And then the modern era will begin.

That will be the future’s modern era, not the present’s. Nothing “modern” can ever remain so. Well, few things.

Context is everything, but I’d put it as starting anywhere post-Industrial revolution to about the mid-20th century, with the beginning/development of nuclear and semiconductor technology. I personally wouldn’t put it any more recent than that.

ISTM it was the “quiet” generation that really did the heavy lifting there.

Fascinating perspective! Can you recommend a book from each author (Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle) that illustrates this point?

I tend mostly to think of the end of WWII as the beginning of the “modern” era. After all the disruption of the Great Depression and then WWII, after all the dust settled people lifted up their heads and looked around and Behold! The world was unrecognizably changed from the way things were before.

On another level entirely, I think the “modern” era began with the Industrial Revolution, or at least by the time the Industrial Revolution was well-established and well underway, from about 1760 to about 1820.

The Industrial revolution. That set the work practises we still have today - 8 hour day, working for the ‘bosses’ - everything since than has just been an incremental change. (Well, the 8-hour day took some time to come in),

IMHO what makes the modern lifestyle modern is having AC electricity in the home. I’m going to place the admittedly arbitrary cutoff as when a working class person in an economically developed country would be expected to have electrify in their home. So that would be in maybe the 1920s or 1930s? Somewhere around there.

For me it is 1903, with the first powered flight of a heavier-than-air aircraft.

For Doyle it has to be The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, all stories published in the 1920s.

Christie is harder. I don’t much like Poirot, although I admire her skill in the mysteries. Somewhat more realistic are her lesser known characters, who are more fun and turn mysteries into adventures. The Secret Adversary was her second novel, published in 1921, featuring the husband/wife team of Tommy and Tuppence. It’s old enough to be free on gutenberg. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? - published in the U.S. as The Boomerang Clue - has a similar but unmarried man/woman team and is from 1935.

Up until the 1800’s people were living pretty much the same as the people of classical Greece and Rome (or - Briton if you prefer). There were incremental improvements (don’t underestimate the invention of a practical horse collar) But travel was on foot, horseback. or on water. Communications were only that fast. And in the northern latitudes villages were essentially isolated during the winters. The most advanced technology for “prime movers” was the watermill and windmill.

The development of an internal transport system - the railroads - and an almost instantaneous communication system - the telegraph - changed all that. For example, the railroad HAD to be in operation right through the winter to support the capital cost. So the villages and farms were no longer isolated…

But just as important, the sudden changes these wrought meant that people were thinking that there would be further changes in the way their children lived, and they expected that their children would lead better lives than they had. The widespread belief in progress is the very definition of the “modern era”.

Not really. Northern latitude winters yielded excellent travel opportunities, via ski and sleigh, over snow and especially frozen bodies of water, turned into obstacle-free highways. It was only in the early spring period, when the ice broke and the snow was melting, that travel was compromised and relative isolation was experienced.

Farm to village, maybe. Village to big city - not so much.


By the time most people had TVs, they also had; indoor plumbing and electricity, used some form of motorized transportation.

Tv programming coming into most homes, changed everything, and would continue to bring sweeping changes in attitudes, consumerism, politics, etc, etc.

That’s, in my humble opinion, the true onset of the ‘modern‘ era.

Agreed, and that began around the 16th century. But, what we see around us today is not steam and telegraph.

In the fifties the stage was set by events like the Russian launch of Sputnik, the entry Japan into the US automobile market and the death of Pius the 12th. The modern era is defined by cars, computers, satellites, semiconductors and social change. That all began in the late 50s.

There were major advances in science, aero space, manufacturing, infrastructure, education and civil rights. The US became the world leader.

The stage was set for the current decline of the modern era by the election of Ronald Reagan. We are a debtor nation that is seldom number one at anything but COVID.


The Enlightenment. If we are not talking gadgets but rather, consciousness.

I’ve thought about this before. For me my “personal lifestyle” conception of modern is probably right around the end of WWI, 1918-1925 or so. When I’ve thought of this before, the way I’ve thought of it is, if I was transported as an adult (say the age I am now) to a certain year, how comfortably could I adapt to that time.

And that era 1918-1925 feels about as early as I could go without feeling like I was way out of my personal experience. Now, I also am trying to go back as far as I can. By 1930 something like 70% of U.S. households had electricity. Iceboxes were common, canned goods were common, a radio was common, phone service wasn’t rare albeit it lagged electrification. To me that’s a world I feel like I’d at least understand.

Now for context, as a child of the 50s, I grew up in an era when basically everyone had electricity and running water. Some “rural relatives” might still have an outhouse, but other than that people had indoor plumbing. We grew up with a black and white TV in the living room and radios were ubiquitous, we had a phone in the house my whole life. The horse was a farm animal or a hobbyist animal, not a serious means of transportation. Refrigeration was all but universal, I was aware of the concept of the old ice boxes but never saw one other than as a relic in someone’s basement.

So I imagine myself in the period 1918-1925, if I had a bit more money than is average, I could have just about everything I grew up with–running water, indoor plumbing, electric lighting, a home radio, a car to ride around in. A home refrigerator while invented in the 20s was quit uncommon then, but an icebox is pretty close in many ways. The only thing that was ubiquitous in my coming of age that stands out as a normal/everyday thing that just wouldn’t have been available is television. But I think I could get by without it–we only got three channels back then and I spent most my leisure time playing outdoor games or reading. There were TV shows I liked, but because of the nature of broadcast TV and because back in those days the parent’s TV watching desires trumped the kids, my total TV watching time per week wasn’t all that high.

Now I think about my grandfather who fought in WWI, and who was a rural route letter carrier for the Post Office. His era would be simply alien to me. He grew up in a time when no one had electric lighting or running water, when no one had radio, and where the horse was not a hobbyist animal but literally the main way anyone got around if they weren’t traveling by train. I always felt like his lifetime saw immense changes (he died in the late 1980s pushing 100.) His formative years would be like a different world from anything I have a frame of reference for.