It is, in fact, not too much to say that the pace of life draws a line through humanity, dividing us into camps, triggering bitter misunderstanding between parent and child, between Madison Avenue and Main Street, between men and women, between American and European, between East and West. Can individuals or society survive without commitment? For the fear of product obsolescence drives businessmen to innovation at the same time that it impels the consumer toward rented, disposable or temporary products. Alas, this was poetry, not reality, and it could not hold back the forces that were to tear man loose from fixed location. What once took a century now took only ten months. Only during the last six lifetimes did masses of men ever see a printed word. Thus 1968 saw 9,500 new items in the consumer packaged-goods field alone, with only one in five meeting its sales target.
In fact, only the exaggerations appear to be true. The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide. The texture of plastic or concrete, the iridescent glisten of an automobile under a streetlight, the staggering vision of a cityscape seen from the window of a jet—these are the intimate realities of his existence. They help defeat a school bond issue—and leave the children of others to suffer the consequences. Corn muffins come in baking tins that are thrown away after one use. Plotted on a graph, the line representing progress in the past generation would leap vertically off the page.
It took the human race millions of years to attain that record. These are not throw-away items. In France, for example, in the twenty-nine years between 1910 and the outbreak of the second world war, industrial production rose only 5 percent. This lifetime is also different from all others because of the astonishing expansion of the scale and scope of change. These trips alone accounted for 312,000,000,000 passenger miles. Yet culture shock is relatively mild in comparison with the much more serious malady, future shock. Detroit's autos today deliver no more mileage per gallon of gasoline than they did ten model changes back, and the oil companies, for all the additives about which they boast, still put a turtle, not a tiger, in the tank.
The mobile partition, indeed, might well serve as a symbol of the transient society. And of the products available then, 42 percent have faded away altogether. There may be a biological basis as well, for such differences in subjective response to time. We are now undergoing the most extensive and rapid urbanization the world has ever seen. As the general rate of change in society accelerates, however, the economics of permanence are—and must be—replaced by the economics of transience.
Today's Europeans are to some small degree different people because that conflict occurred. Third, its diffusion through society. The maps of the world drawn by the medieval cartographers were so hopelessly inaccurate, so filled with factual error, that they elicit condescending smiles today when almost the entire surface of the earth has been charted. He must, in other words, understand transience. The relationship entails certain accepted forms of behavior and communication. We can understand the significance of mobility only if we first recognize the centrality of fixed place in the psychological architecture of traditional man. That is no longer so.
In 1836 a machine was invented that mowed, threshed, tied straw into sheaves and poured grain into sacks. Technology makes more technology possible, as we can see if we look for a moment at the process of innovation. One thinks of America in the 1950s, for example, largely in terms of David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd and John Kenneth Galbraiths's The Affluent Society, while Michael Harrington's The Other America helped focused the concerns of the early 1960s. This brings a whole new dimension to the concept of playing a first-person perspective action game. When we speak of the rate of change, we refer to the number of events crowded into an arbitrarily fixed interval of time.
In 1966 some 7000 new products turned up in American supermarkets. First, there is the creative, feasible idea. Contrast this with the lifelong residence in one place characteristic of the rural villager. Man-made things enter into and color his consciousness. . The first girl, Jackie, cruises the Greek Islands, reaches Istanbul, and at length returns to England, where she takes a job with another magazine.
Such changes in the ratio between old and new have, as we shall show, an electric impact on the habits, beliefs, and self-image of millions. The idea is catching on. In each year since 1948 one out of five Americans changed his address, picking up his children, some household effects, and starting life anew at a fresh place. When a fifty-year-old father tells his fifteen-year-old son that he will have to wait two years before he can have a car of his own, that interval of 730 days represents a mere 4 percent of the father's lifetime to date. The cavernous rail terminal in Munich has become a debarkation point for many of them, and Munich now has its own Turkish-language newspaper. One scarcely ever enters a large office today without tripping over a crew of workers busily moving desks and rearranging interior space by reorganizing the partitions.