Reflections on Turning 71

60 years ago, when I was eleven, I got a lot of birthday cards, but they all came from New York and New Jersey.  Probably all came from within a 30 mile radius of the Empire State Building.

Five years later, on my 16th birthday my horizons had expanded as had the distance from which Birthday cards arrived.  Two aunts had retired to Florida and I got cards from them.  My best friend growing up across the street moved to Cincinnati.  I got a card from him.  But the long distance prize came from my pen pal, Patty, who lived outside Glasgow.  I met Patty on a steamer between Belfast and Glasgow when traveling with my grandfather when I was 14.   Her birthday card traveled the furthest and had the most exotic stamp.  I decided to reciprocate Patty’s card with a phone call on her Birthday.  I wrote her a letter to make sure she was home.  I saved lawn mowing and snow shoveling money to be able to afford the cost of the call and I had to make a reservation for an international line a week in advance.  I could only afford three minutes and when we made the connection the line was bad, and Patty’s Scottish lilt was so thick that I couldn’t understand most of what she said.

Fast forward (can we still “fast forward” when we no longer use recording tape?) 55 years to my 71st birthday.  I picked up my iPad and called a friend in Serbia, for free.  The audio was clear and if we wanted we could even have made it a video call.   And, while I got cards in the post only from Aunts more elderly than I, I received birthday greetings via mobile phone texting, Skype, Facebook, LinkedIn and email.

Greetings came from 22 countries on 5 continents.  Seven of those countries did not exist 55 years ago.  Some of the messages were simple, some more complex, beautiful pictures, poems, and inventive animations.  Many messages came from countries that, 55 years ago, were locked away behind an “Iron Curtain,” friends who had been enemies because of the country they lived in.  Social Media allows me to keep up with them across the miles and years.  Social media has allowed me to re-connect with people from whom I have not heard in years.   There is that old high school friend, or the three little girls we gave English lessons to 24 years ago.  One of them found me on Facebook and sent a friend request.  I not only get greetings, but I can respond quickly opening up ongoing conversations.

My (other) grandfather lived 101 years.  When he entered the world there were no telephones in homes, no motor cars on the streets and houses were lit by gaslight.  Commercial radio didn’t come along until he was in his 30s, TV in his 50s.  There were no airplanes, and would be none until he was well into his teens.  When he died Neil Armstrong had long since walked on the moon.  When he died every house had a phone, electric light, radio and TV with dozens of channels.  If he had a fire in his house he didn’t have to run down to the corner and pull an alarm in the fire box but could dial 911.  While he didn’t have a computer his great grand kids were using Apples in school.

When he died I marveled at the changes he had seen in 101 years.  I wondered if his generation had seen more changes than any had or would see.  Would the world change that much in my lifetime?   Looking back, when Grandpa McClear died the Berlin wall was still up, mobile phones were about the size of half a shoebox, there was no world wide web, and long distance calls, let alone international calls were expensive and made sparingly.   Now I carry the world in my pocket, I can ask any question, listen to any music, watch any TV show and can talk with people all over the world for pennies or less.  And I haven’t even mentioned medical advances, or the sequencing of the human genome.

Social media are under attack for what they do to our interpersonal relations.  But they have enriched my life.  I marvel at a world I could not have imagined when my world first expanded as a teenager.

Two of the best Graphics I got this year.  I got Josef’s from two people, one of them Josef.

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