I have written elsewhere that the world changed so rapidly during the 19th century that the world of 1900 would have been scarcely imaginable to even far-thinking people in 1896 the Director of the United States patent office thought that new patents would soon diminish, as everything had already been invented. That of course was before the airplane, a common power, and television, just to name a few undiscovered items.

World War II accelerated the pace of change, obviously in weaponry, but also in transportation, communications, electronics, medicine, and in other ways. both technological and social. Toffler anticipated further acceleration in the rate of change, and from our perspective in the first decade of the 21st century, it is hard to imagine a world without many of the things we take for granted. A little over a quarter of a century ago, about the time Ronald Reagan was being elected president, no one except a few obscure scientists had ever heard of the Internet. Cell phones were unknown. Office has had desktop computers, but they were huge machines costing tens of thousands of dollars that could only do word processing. Only a handful of geeks had what we now call a PC, and it probably had a 10 inch screen which displayed only white or green type.

Once the dust has settled from World War II and the millions of displaced persons had been more or less settled and the European and Asian cities rebuilt from the piles of rubble created by the war, things began to change more rapidly. Beneath the ominous cloud of fear generated by the Cold War, people looked ahead with both anticipation and doubt. In 1970 Alvin Toffler published a book called Future Shock, in which he described the manner in which the future was rushing toward us at an accelerated rate. He wrote, “Future shock is the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future.”

With the first decades of alternating complacency and turbulence The American people hoped for much, achieved much and had their faith in their social and political institutions both strengthened and shaken, often at the same time and sometimes by the same events. Welcome to the postwar world.


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