Before leggings, when there were letters, before texts and tweets, when there was time, before speed cameras, when you could speed, before graffiti management companies, when cities had souls, we managed just the same.
Before homogenization, when there was mystery, before aggregation, when the original had value, before digital, when there was vinyl, before Made in China, when there was Mao, before stress management, when there was romance, we had the impression we were doing all right.
Before apps, when there were attention spans, before “I’ve got five bars,” when bars were for boozing, before ring-tone selection, when the phone rang, before high-net-worth individuals, when love was all you needed, before hype, when there was Hendrix, we got by just the same.
Before social media, when we were social, before thumb-typing, when a thumb hitched a ride, before de-friending, when a friend was for life, before online conduct, when you conducted yourself, before “content,” when we told stories, we did get by all the same.
Before non-state actors, when states commanded, before the Bangalore back office, when jobs stayed put, before globalization, when wars were cold, we did manage O.K., it seemed.
Before celebrities, when there were stars, before Google maps, when compasses were internal, before umbilical online-ism, when we off-lined our lives, before virtual flirtation, when legs touched, we felt we managed all the same.
Before identity theft, when nobody could steal you, before global positioning systems, when we were lost, before 24/7 monitoring and alerts by text and e-mail, when there was idleness, before spin doctors, when there was character, before e-readers, when pages were turned, we did get by just the same.
Before organic, when carrots weren’t categorized, before derivatives, when your mortgage was local, before global warming, when we feared nuclear winters, before “save the planet,” when we lived in our corners, before the Greens, when we faced the Reds, it seemed we did somehow manage just the same.
Or did we? Before iPads and “Search,” in the era of print, before portable devices, when there were diaries, before the weather channel, when forecasts were farcical, before movies-on-demand, when movies were demanding, before chains and brands, in the time of the samizdat, before curved shower curtain rods, when they were straight, before productivity gains, when Britain produced things, and so did Ohio, did we really and honestly get by just the same?
Before January cherries, when fruit had seasons, before global sushi, when you ate what you got, before deep-fried Mars bars, when fish were what fried, before New World wine, when wine was tannic, before fast food and slow food, when food just was, before plate-size cookies, when greed was contained, before fusion, in scattered division, before the obesity onslaught, in our ordinariness, could we — could we — have gotten by all the same?
Before dystopia, when utopia beckoned, before rap, in Zappa’s time, before attention deficit disorders, when people turned on, before the new Prohibition, when lunches were liquid, before Lady Gaga, when we dug the Dead, before “join the conversation,” when things were disjointed, before Facebook, when there was Camelot, before reality shows, when things were real, yes, I believe we got by just the same.
Before “I’ll call you back,” when people made dates, before algorithms, when there was aimlessness, before attitude, when there was apathy, before YouTube, when there was you and me, before Gore-Tex, in the damp, before sweat-resistant fabric, when sweat was sexy, before high-tech sneakers, as we walked the walk, before remotes, in the era of distance, I’m sure we managed just the same.
Before “carbon neutral,” when carbon copied, before synching, when we lived unprompted, before multiplatform, when pen met paper, before profiling, when there was privacy, before cloud computing, when life was earthy, before a billion bits of distraction, when there were lulls, before “silent cars,” when there was silence, before virtual community, in a world with borders, before cut-and-paste, to the tap of the Selectra, before the megabyte, in disorder, before information overload, when streets were for wandering, before “sustainable,” in the heretofore, before CCTV, in invisibility, before networks, in the galaxy of strangeness, my impression, unless I’m wrong, is that we got by quite O.K.
Before I forget, while there is time, for the years pass and we don’t get younger, before the wiring accelerates, while I can pause, let me summon it back, that fragment from somewhere, that phrase that goes: “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production ... and with them the whole relations of society.”
Yes, that was Marx, when he was right, before he went wrong, when he observed, before he imagined, with terrible consequences for the 20th century.
And if back in that century — back when exactly? — in the time before the tremendous technological leap, in the time of mists and drabness and dreams, if back then, without passwords, we managed just the same, even in black and white, and certainly not in hi-def, or even 3-D, how strange to think we had to change everything or we would not be managing at all.
OP-ED COLUMNIST/The New York Times