1950 Thought Experiment

My house was built in 1952. As a thought experiment, I try to imagine what the first home-owner thought of their house and the accommodations it entailed.

More precisely, how am I living differently than my 1950s single-family counterpart? What makes 2010 different from 1950? Am I living better? Am I living worse? Do the differences matter?

So, the thought experiment: In 1950, what do you expect out of your house, neighborhood, your technology? What is in your home, your garage, your bedroom, your medicine cabinet, and how does that differ/agree with your lifestyle today? My answer is below the white space.



Phone: I've killed my land-line, but I still have a phone. I have an answering machine now, technology unknown in 1950, but not that terribly different than scribbling down a message. The big difference is that I can take my phone with me when I leave the house, and the benefit of that is almost entirely negative.

Car: As a 1950s man, I've got a car in the garage, just like I do now (yes, the car is physically in the garage. Soooo happy about that.)

Climate control: The wall heater is almost original. The only thing that has changed is the digital thermostat. Since I'm adjusting it all the time, I don't think it's a change over my pipe-smoking counterpart. And A/C is for chumps, nobody I know in Sunnyvale leaves theirs on for more than a few minutes a year.

Water and Sewer: Almost original plumbing too. Most of it works.

Television: Not all houses in 1950 had TVs. Ours does, but it doesn't connect to any broadcast signals. The DVD player means I have movies on demand, but since movies in the theatre cost $10 today vs. the sub $1 1950 matinée price, I hardly call this an improvement, as 1950s theatres were air conditioned and big screen.

Computers:This is the only thing that I can think of that has truly changed. I have a computer in every room in my house, including my pocket. But functionally, it has replaced newspapers and nightly news and the typewriter. So now I have a three-in-one box. Woot.

Medicine:The designer drugs do keep the hay fever at bay, something that I couldn't have enjoyed in the 1950s. My dad tells me that they used cubes of ice under on the roof of their tongues to numb to the allergies. My icebox works, so there. Still, Flonase is a life changer for me.

I guess the point is, in the last one hundred years, our lifestyle has changed dramatically, but in the last fifty, lifestyle changes have slowed almost to a snail's pace. Facebook doesn't count, as it's just a substitute for the phone network and social groups people used to maintain. I'm grateful that I don't have to build my own ice house (as it never snows it Sunnyvale, it would prove quite useless), but my pace of life (if not my politics) is only a pebble's kick away from the first family to buy this home.

Do you agree with this? Have we reached a plateau? We Americans reach another plateau later? Will we regress? 42? Feel free to prove me wrong.

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At 5/10/10, 9:43 PM, Blogger marshlady said...

I didnt experience the 50s but did a bit of the 60s. I would say if you are talking like day to day life there are a lot of differences. (not even counting social differences) cars- you did have a car but you only had one. You didn't drive everywhere like we do now. Very few had AC in my experience, so in summer you went outside more. It was safe then as a kid (the kidnapping fears didn't start up until 70s)We would just be out all day and evening in the summer.
Phones: One big difference, back then when the phone rang..you picked it up! AlWAYS. It never entered your head to let it go. Or now obviously go to Voice mail. You picked up! Sounds minor but i think the not always answering the phone has really changed our way of communicating. We were more spontaneous then, now you can plan out your email or Voice mail responses. Then you just answered the phone!But yes, it's not like it was back in 1900 with no vacuum cleaners etc. But there were major differences.

At 5/11/10, 9:23 PM, Blogger bs said...

i couldn't disagree more. i would say the mere fact you have a computer in every room demonstrates what a huge change it was (did people in the fifties have tvs in every room? phones even?)... we just don't notice because we're so young we basically grew up with them.

i think marshlady is absolutely right. things have changed a lot.

At 5/12/10, 8:53 PM, Blogger Crinis said...

Let me be very, very clear. As my 1950s doppelganger looks back on to 1900, he sees a completely different world. He has indoor plumbing and sewage, a car in his garage, electric appliances, ice, and 4 weeks of vacation; all things his 1900 doppelganger did not have, or anything even remotely equivalent. As I look back to 1950, my doppelganger and mine's lifestyle are different only by a few degrees, not in kind. The technological advances that separate us only replace technologies he enjoyed, not create genuinely new lifestyle or leisure opportunities.

At 5/12/10, 8:54 PM, Blogger Crinis said...

Also, the people I know ALWAYS pick up the phone, cell or otherwise, regardless of generation. Mute, voice service, and answering machines seem to exist only when it would be physically impossible to answer the phone, hence car accidents while driving and that idiot answering his phone in the middle of Lear.


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