This piece is fascinating, even though it’s about things that are right in front of every baby boomer’s eyes. It’s by Seattle’s Ron Gompertz, author of “Life’s Big Zoo,” and what Ron does is catalogue The Big Boom: Innovations in Our Lifetime!
My German grandfather was born in 1890 and died 97 years later. Going farther back, his father, my great-grandfather, who said cars would never replace horses, could not have imagined a man walking on the moon. But my grandfather had a front row seat for World War I and barely escaped the Holocaust. He saw the jet age become the space age and said I would see even greater changes in my lifetime. This prediction has always worried me.
Thinking about this in the context of the Boomer years, I’ve compiled an imperfect list of the giant changes we’ve witnessed to test my grandfather’s prediction.
Peace, somewhat. The wreckage of WWII gave birth to the UN, NATO, and eventually, the European Union. Exhausted after millennia of warfare, with a little Marshall Plan help from their friends, Western Europe discovered that cooperation is a better than carnage.
Eradicating Polio. Our parents remember polio epidemics and even early boomers weren’t free from fear. The polio vaccine became commercially available in 1961. The disease was officially declared eradicated in the USA in 1979, but it took roughly 40 more years to all but eliminate it worldwide. Thank you, Jonas Salk!
Mapping the genome. Humans have long bred plants and animals, but producing a working draft of the human genome in the millennial year 2000 will be seen as an inflection point whose potential we can barely understand. Boomer scientists helped build on the foundational work that came before them to unlock the awe-inspiring if scary potential of genetic analysis and manipulation. Britain’s Dolly the Sheep is a distant memory from 1996. Eradicating cancer might be right around the corner. Designer babies and clone warriors sound like not so far off sci-fi.
Rock and Roll. By the time Boomers entered adolescence, the sound track was established. Our parents danced and romanced to big bands and crooners, but the Dorsey Brothers could not have predicted the adulation that later greeted one of their young singers named Frank Sinatra or the mayhem inspired by Elvis. The Beatles arrived just in time to unleash our repressed sexuality and our post-war desire to have more fun than our parents ever dreamed of. By the end of the sixties, rock had mutated into enough sub-genres for every kid on this planet.
Space flight. Speaking of planets, we know the ancients gazed at the heavens and the wisest among them understood their motions. But if the timeline of human history were an Atlas rocket, the space age would could be represented by a thin coin balanced on the nose cone. Progress has been sporadic, but on July 20, 1969, five days after David Bowie released “Space Oddity” in the UK, we became a space-faring species. We may live to see humans on Mars.
Computers. Your phone has more computing power than that spacecraft that inspired you as a kid. It’s less bulky and just couple of features shy of a Star Trek communicator. Access to vast computational power and rapid breakthroughs in devices, sensors, and miniaturization is as significant as the original industrial revolution and shows no sign of losing steam.
The Internet. From the website you are reading to the music your kids pirate, humanity has never had such access to information. Even if we mostly use it for Facebook and amazing cat videos, the impact of the internet is right behind fire and the wheel.
I’m sure this list is both biased and incomplete. Boomers can’t take credit for most of these life-changing breakthroughs. Time will tell what we’ve added to the list.