You thought your grandparents saw a lot of change!

Melvyn Magree

We ain’t seen nothing yet!

My maternal grandfather was born in 1890 and died in 1974.

By the time he was an adult, cars were starting to be everywhere, but most people still got around by walking or taking a streetcar.

He managed to stay out of “the war to end all wars”, but one of his brothers died in France during the flu epidemic, less than a month after arriving.

When he was in his forties, airplane travel was available, but most long distance travel was by train.

When he was in his sixties, 25 miles away was a long distance call.  I remember him calling us in Cleveland from Chagrin Falls when area codes were introduced for direct dialing.

When he died in his eighties, his grandsons had been flying here and there frequently, including in Europe or to Hawaii.

My own life has seen dramatic changes.

One of the admonitions to get me to clean my plate was that I was taking food from a kid starving in China.

The “starving kid in China”?  Well, unfortunately, there are still hungry kids in China and too many other places.  On the other hand, the middle class is getting larger in almost every country, with India and China each having as many middle-class citizens as the United States has citizens of all classes.  The New York Times just featured a Chinese female billionaire who had to feed pigs as a child; her company makes most of the glass for smart phones.

My first car was a 1940 Chevy coupe, bought from a friend for $20 about 1958.  It had manual transmission, no windshield washers, no air-conditioning, crank windows, and no turn signals.  I had to stick my arm out the window, no matter the weather.

Now lot of people won’t even consider a car without GPS and a Bluetooth connection.

When I learned to drive, the only freeway I knew of was the Lakeshore Drive in Cleveland.  Then came the Ohio Turnpike, a wonder of safe driving built so you would not be blinded by headlights in the other lane.  Now entire neighborhoods have been wiped out by freeways.  I’m not sure, but I think when I drive one of these freeways in Cleveland that I had a paper route 50 feet above where I am driving.

My first commercial flight was in a DC-3.  When I moved to and traveled in Europe I flew in either Boeing 707s or Douglas DC-7s.  I remember standing outside an office building in Rome watching a 747 fly over.  Do I really want to fly in an aircraft carrying that many people?  Now they are even bigger (with far less space per passenger).

I grew up on AM radio and no TV.  Now there are so many AM and FM stations, it’s hard to find an empty frequency to use for an iPhone podcast on the car radio.  I remember when a TV station filmed me going down a sledding hill; we had to watch the news in the window of a store.  Now TVs are ubiquitous conversation killers with large flat-screens in restaurants and fitness centers.

My first computer job was on an IBM 650, about the size of two refrigerators plus a card reader and a card punch, each about the size of an office desk.  It had 10,000 characters of memory.

When I left Univac over twenty years later, we were starting to use internal email from cathode-ray-tube monitors: green letters on a black screen.  Many programmers were being dragged kicking and screaming into using compilers instead of assemblers.  A compiler takes a set of statements and converts them into code the computer understands.  An assembler takes a symbolic representation of each individual instruction.

Some will disagree with me, but I find that the languages now used to program computers are more obtuse and overly complicated from the elegant languages I used when I first programmed a Macintosh.

Now we can put the equivalent of a very large mainframe in a pocket, plus we can make wireless telephone calls, take and view photographs, and send those photos and more to people anywhere in the world.

When we first hooked Teletype machines to mainframes, the sending/receiving speed was 110 bits per second.  Now we get irritated when our 7 megabits per second service only sends at 4 Mbps.

Some of those early mainframes had a memory capacity of about 3/4 million characters.  Now we can buy smart phones with 64 billion characters.

One summer while in high school, I had a job with a surveying crew.  I got to hold the rod while the surveyor looked through his transit or I held one end of a steel tape.  Now surveyors bounce light beams to get the distance.  On one of the construction sites I was told that, by union agreement, the carpenters had to use hand tools.  Now almost all commercial carpenters have a huge array of power tools including power saws and nail guns.

As for the “war to end all wars”; it didn’t work.  There are still wars to keep people in power who don’t want to give it up, wars to make sure others have the “right” religion, and wars to protect a country’s influence on others.  On the bright side, I have read that the number of conflicts are less than ever.  Think of Western Europe, no wars since 1945.

Here’s hoping our grandkids can write similar articles about more techno-wonders and about far fewer wars.