Jun 23, 2009

Did that really ever happen?

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: American life| nostalgia

If you’ve watched “Mad Men” (and if you haven’t, get thee to a Netflix account), I’m certain you’ve been struck by the constant puffing away by nearly every single character. Can’t you just imagine the fictitious stench wafting through those sleek, sexy, uber-stylized Sterling Cooper offices?

Yet while I wouldn’t know exactly how historically and culturally accurate the depiction of 1960s Madison Avenue life is (I was a bit young to be a switchboard girl—or an ad exec—back then), I do remember that even 20 years on, some of the smartest people I knew still smoked at their desks, on planes, at the dinner table.

But despite some occasional pangs of nostalgia for a more carefree existence, I’m really happy those days are behind us. I’m so accustomed to our smoke-free lifestyles that I find myself surprisingly taken aback when I step into a restaurant or bar that still allows it.

Yes, nonsmoking has become the norm, and those who still like to light up generally aren’t allowed to do so within sniffing distance of the public. A mixture of scientific research, legislation and social pressure has banished them. Society’s attitudes have shifted in a big way.

Which leads me to consider what other 180-degree turns in societal acceptance we’ve seen over the past few decades. Lots have to do with technology. Print media evolved into online media around the same time that people gave up their landlines for cell phones. Then cell phones morphed into multimedia devices that put the online media in our pockets. Tech innovations and our willingness to adapt to anything 2.0 move so fast that a brand-new device can be passé in the space of a year.

But looking beyond the technology of online and mobile, what larger behavioral aspects of today’s life and culture will seem outdated and old-fashioned a few years from now?

Recycling statistics have vastly improved over the years and will keep advancing with increasing education and legislation. And there’s no doubt that we’ve begun to see shifts in what’s normal and accepted in relation to how we use energy and transportation. With a combination of higher gas prices, peak oil and environmental concerns, how long will it be before we watch a movie with a crazy car chase and think: “What a waste of gasoline!”

Try and put yourself 20 years into the future as you watch TV tonight. Which scenes and props and attitudes will you look back on and see as old-fashioned?

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