44 Years Ago
Forty four years ago the world was heating up in arts, rights and freedoms, cultural change and yes the temperatures were also rising but not many were talking about it yet. A global recession and energy crisis raged and in the U.S. inflation was 11%. A small percentage of scientists predicted a coming ice age which captured the popular imagination but 6 times as many predicated warming due to fossil fuel usage. At the same time, the U.S. passed the Endangered Species Act and a DDT ban, a decade after Rachel Carson’s paradigm shifting work of science, love and grief, Silent Spring, brought the dangers of synthetic pesticides to the masses.
Hippy idealism turned to raising free-spirited children and reclaiming food after the post-war enchantment with everything processed and canned. Frances Moore Lappe published her own paradigm shifting work, Diet for a Small Planet, a favorite of my mother’s and a mainstay of our childhood dinners. My favorite are the lentil soup and the Three Layer Cornbread, a quick bread with a layer of honey sweetened custard in the middle. Cesar Chavez continued his tireless efforts and hunger strikes for farm worker rights with some success as thousands of workers were unionized. Most women still did not work outside the home but with the Women’s movement in full swing, a wave of change was unfolding. The fitness movement was also catching on and there were more and more joggers on the suburban streets. The post-civil rights era briought further improvements in legislation for the rights of all Americans and Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run making him the all-time leader in home runs in major league baseball. With Roe vs. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court held that abortion should be a private decision between a woman and her doctor. The Supreme Court also legalized the pill, making for a short-lived sexual revolution before the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Forty four years ago in Ethiopia and Bangladesh millions died from famine and even more were about to die in Cambodia with the Khmer Rouge. Nuclear proliferation continued as India detonated its first Nuclear weapon. Richard Nixon resigned and was pardoned. Amnesty was announced for Vietnam war deserters and draft dodgers. Our understanding of the human timeline shifted radically with the discovery of nearly intact, 3 million year old remains in Ethiopia (the famous “Lucy”).
Disco reigned supreme and New York was the epicenter of inclusive, irreverent, culture shifting, interdisciplinary creativity from cinema to dance to visual arts (all of them breaking out of their traditional venues). My father was still listening to the Beatles and Roxy Music but everyone else was listening to ABBA, Stevie Wonder and Super Tramp. Trisha Brown and Dianne McIntyre started their companies and Trisha Brown made "Man Walking Down the Side of a Building.” Simone Forti moved on from her work with Anna Halprin creating “Sprawl” and "Crawl." And at the same time,Twyla Tharp re-ignited interest in virtuosity and technical skill in dance.
Forty four years ago no one owned a computer at home but handheld “pocket” calculators were a thing and so was electronic music. Pioneering composer, Suzanne Ciani moved from Berkeley to New York and founded her company Ciani/Musica where she composed scores of commercials and invented sounds using a Buchla Analog Modular Synthesizer. The IBM 360 Computer with 64K memory was state of the art and 1974 might just be the year that Alto (the first personal computer) came to be in Xerox Parc (but as we all know Xerox didn't do anything with it so it was a while before we all got them). Word processors were a big breakthrough, making typing a whole lot easier. And in the 1970s the first use of UPC or Universal product Code BAR CODE scanners began in Ohio. MRI Scanners were developed forty four years ago and computerized axial tomography (CAT) scanners gained widespread use, bringing with them a revolution both positive and negative in diagnostics. We also see the beginnings of rising healthcare costs and calls for healthcare reform. There were multiple breakthroughs in computer graphics and gaming including texture mapping. There was no Internet of course, if you wanted to find this information, you needed a newspaper or a library or a well-informed friend.
And in 1974, Marshall McLuhan gave his lecture Living in an Acoustic World, describing a world of simultaneity no longer continuous and connected and stable but discontinuous, heterogeneous and rapidly changing, a prescient definition of what we now call the shift from analog to digital. Not unlike today, artists were seeking to create an artist run culture, redefining everything about art and where it happened and for whom and asserting the ability of artists to create meaningful change.
Thanks to one of my favorite tech bloggers Seth Godin for his post "58 Years Ago" and the idea to do a birthday post reflecting back to the time of my birth.
Image of toys in 1974 is borrowed from http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1974.html