In our lifetimes, we’ve witnessed a massive change in the way we eat, travel, and communicate with each other. Perhaps we should note how far we’ve come.
My dear departed mum would have turned 100 on the last day of 2020. This milestone got me thinking of all the changes she had witnessed in her lifetime. The same goes for my paternal grandmother, who was born in the late 1880s. They both witnessed more in real life than Jules Verne ever predicted.
It took me back to a wonderful phone interview I had on 3AW, with a Geelong woman who had just turned 100. I remember my revved-up intro: “In your lifetime, you have seen amazing things. Motor cars, aeroplanes, penicillin, radio, television, men going to the moon …”
I asked her what she thought was the most important advancement in her lifetime. Her answer poleaxed me.
“Sewerage. No doubt. Sewerage. Before that, it just flowed up and down the street,” she said.
For health reasons, she was probably spot on. Thomas Crapper, who reportedly invented the flush toilet, was really on to something.
My grandma may have seen the invention of the Henry Ford petrol-powered motor car. We are now witnessing the rise of electric cars, driverless cars, and even flying cars.
One of the most community-affecting devices in my lifetime (apart from television) is undoubtedly the mobile phone. My first one was the size of a house brick. People these days go through their lives glued to the small screen. You get in a lift and nobody looks at you. All are mesmerized by their phones. Mobile phones (and the apps spinning off them) are now so intrusive, that you call an Uber and your screen tells you the address of where you are. Through our phones, we give Who knows? very personal information. While I know a real person is not actually listening to my conversation, it is disconcerting when you are discussing a new dog leash and suddenly three pet stores appear in your feed. Spooky.
The intrusion of the mobile phone has probably also had a dramatic reduction in the number of extra-marital affairs. “Where were you? You didn’t answer your phone for hours.” People panic if they leave their cell phone at home. They risk big fines by answering their phone in the car. Can’t miss a call. Do you remember when people left a message on an answering machine? Remember when we didn’t even have answering machines?
Do you remember when people left a message on an answering machine? Remember when we didn’t even have answering machines?
The biggest change in recent years has been social media. The Internet’s explosion in popularity has led to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, et cetera. Those words didn’t exist too many years ago. We’ve witnessed social media financially cripple the established mainstream media. It has changed people’s viewing habits. It has brought an explosion of news and information – and a dangerous rise of non-news and misinformation. Indeed, nobody used Twitter more effectively (and more dishonestly) than disgraced former (and what a great word for him “former”) American president Donald Trump. He made Joseph Goebbels look like an amateur.
It all takes me back to a time when, as an admittedly callow reporter, I did a prescient interview in Canada for Time magazine with renowned “communication theorist,” Marshall McLuhan. He pronounced (way back in 1965) that “the new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.” Decades later, social media proved him right. An intrusive global village it became. Now, when social media coughs, the whole world catches cold. News (and non-news) is now out there 24-7. Politicians must now “feed the beast” insatiably. Those days when a story headline held firm for 12 hours are gone forever. Many people don’t ever buy (or read) a paper newspaper anymore. It’s all online. I don’t think even Marshall McLuhan envisaged just how much social media would change our lives.
Another area where our lives and habits have changed dramatically (and forever) is food. When did you last have a dinner party at home? Takeaway and home delivery services like UberEats and Deliveroo are booming. It’s a long way from a childhood memory when, very occasionally as a treat, my Dad and I, armed with an empty saucepan, would head down to the local (only) Chinese restaurant to get a sweet-and-sour dish from “the Chows.”
And on the subject of food, another huge change I’ve seen has been the increase in vegetarians and vegans. I saw a survey recently out of Brazil – the biggest exporter of beef in the world. The number of vegetarians and vegans in that meat-happy country is now 14%. In Australia, I believe, it is now probably around 10%. While part of it is for health, the other is a personal stand on climate change and animal cruelty.
Plant-based meals (including faux-meat burgers) are, I believe, the way of the future. On the alternative food front, I pose you a question for 2021: Are cows the new coal? With renewables taking hold (and the future of coal in doubt), a similar transition is happening in the world of food.
Bill Gates (and other billionaires) have sensed the tide and have invested heavily in meat-free meals. In a recent interview, Gates said: “I do think all rich countries should move to 100 percent synthetic beef … you can get used to the taste difference, and the claim is they’re going to make it taste even better over time. Eventually, that green premium is modest enough that you can sort of change the (behavior of) people or use regulation to totally shift the demand.”
Jack Cowin, the owner of the Hungry Jack’s burger chain, seems to agree. He said recently: “The meat industry is a huge industry, but plant-based is the future as far as new product development goes.”
It won’t be long before youngsters will be asking what a gas station was. Will the office become a memory as we all work from home? Will the four-day workweek be the norm?
Apart from major supermarkets, other food outlets are increasingly stocking plant-based “meat.” McDonald’s announced a meat alternative called “McPlant” and Australian chains Hunky Dory, Pie Face, Mad Mex, Ferguson Plarre, and even 7-Eleven stock meat alternative products. I was in a country town supermarket recently and the vegan section was bigger than the frozen pizza display. And watch out for products made from insects and our oceans being raided for kelp. Progress, indeed.
Let’s close on my mum’s time, and note some things that have changed our lives that we’ve taken for granted.
The TV remote control: Remember when you actually had to get up off the couch to change the channel?
The dishwasher: My Nanna wouldn’t dream of having one. “It’s not natural. It won’t get things clean the way I do,” she said.
The washing machine and dryer: I can still see Mum slaving over the copper, and wrestling with the ringer.
The electronic door opener: Do you ever wonder how these things work?
ATMs: I was on the radio when these came in. I was totally opposed to them. I said that if you were seen withdrawing dollars from an outside ATM, it was like you had a sign on your head saying, “I’ve got money.” I now use them regularly.
So, what’s next? It won’t be long before youngsters will be asking what a gas station was. In a post-COVID world, will the office become a memory as we all work from home? Will the four-day workweek be the norm? Will having a domestic robot seem natural?
Anything is possible.