My Dad was born on a small farm in southwestern Ontario. He was born in the farmhouse, on the kitchen table to be exact. No hospital, no birthing classes, none of that stuff we now take as absolutely essential.
My Dad grew up in a house where you pumped your water, by hand. Heat came from a wood stove, light from coal oil lamps. No electricity, no indoor plumbing. Certainly no telephone. When those things arrived, they were revolutionary. His life was a succession of revolutionary advances.
He remembered quite clearly his father's first car, a revolutionary advance over the horse drawn wagon. He remembered quite clearly seeing his first airplane and his first airplane ride at a county fair. He remembered the ice box giving way to the electric refrigerator. Revolutionary.
In the span of his lifetime almost everything changed as revolution begat revolution. The way we produced and distributed food changed. We became estranged from the farm and umbilically connected to the grocery store. The way we travelled and travel itself underwent revolutionary change. The way we communicated was a succession of quantum advances. Relationships among individuals, with communities, societies and governments were radically transformed.
My Dad was born into a world with few creature comforts. In several respects the world at his birth more closely resembled the world of previous centuries than the world of today, just decades later. His was a primarily agrarian society. Industrialization had taken hold but the fruits of it had barely reached the stage of mass consumption. He was born long before the world population first reached 2-billion.
The great majority of all the scientific developments in the history of mankind occurred during my Dad's lifetime. Medical breakthroughs led to the most massive expansion of longevity in man's history. Mechanization was brought down to the level of the individual to the point of a near total dependency on everything from computers to cellular phones, lawnmowers to power tools to kitchen appliances.
Now these advances seem to be running out of steam or maybe it's just that their inevitable side-effects and repercussions are beginning to catch up. Now we stand poised to reap the whirlwind of our revolutionary advances and excesses - overpopulation, pollution, desertification, species extinction, resource exhaustion and the depletion of renewables, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and, of course, global warming.
In my Dad's lifetime we developed the means to create truly existential threats. Nuclear Armageddon, cataclysmic global warming. We have perched ourselves at the edge of this precipice and we did it without thinking, almost inadvertently. We have abruptly come to realize that the mantra of growth that we embraced for so long may have failed us. The challenge for the coming decades may be to make sense of all these revolutionary changes and retake the control over our lives that we surrendered to them.