Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Singularity approacheth

kw: musings, cultural evolution

I once read a SciFi (or SpecFi, perhaps) that chronicled, at breakneck speed, one night in a future society. In this one night, fortunes were made and lost, and made again, marriages were forged, consummated, and dissolved, and it seems the only thing you couldn't pass through in a single night was carrying a baby to term. The term wasn't mentioned in the story, but it was a day just before a "singularity", when the pace of cultural evolution becomes infinite...or it collapses.

As a member of the Sandwich Generation, I have been observing the cultural expectations of my son, my father, and myself. This is the more keen as I consider courtship, which seems to be approaching just such a singularity, in the light of the letters I am collating and curating. I found a touching photo in a letter sent late in February 1944.

One day my Dad-to-be and two friends borrowed a Brownie camera and took pictures of one another, then one of the friends developed and printed the film in the darkroom on the post (They were newbies in Officer Candidate School in Australia). The friend was at least as clumsy as I am, and this image shows the best print of my future father that he was able to produce!

He promptly sent it to his fiancée Ruth, who kept it with the letter, so I found it today. He sent on average 2-3 letters per week, and she sent probably more like 4-6 weekly, from late 1942 until the very end of 1945. If I had all of my Mom's letters, there'd be several hundred, but I have only the first hundred; I think I have nearly all of Dad's, some four hundred.

The letters chronicle a young couple falling more and more in love. No "Dear John" letter for them. They were married 58 years, until my mother's death a few years ago. In a generation that thought a two year engagement "just about right", theirs lasted four. So far as I've noted, they only saw one another once after Dad joined the Army. Telephone contact was incredibly expensive, when it could be made to work internationally at all.

One letter details Dad's attempts to get a plane ride from Virginia to California and back, because he had only a ten-day leave; not enough time to drive it, though he was game to try! The plane fare was $300, round trip. Not only was that more than today's fare on Southwest, it was something like $10,000 in today's terms!

It takes a lot of communication to make love properly (using the old sense of the term). A convenient wartime separation of three years was just about right for them.

My own experience in my current marriage (I had a brief, disastrous one at a too-young age) had a much shorter courtship. But we also took a long time to fall properly in love. My wife and I spent six months in 1975 "engaged". I realize now how lucky we were to stay together. It took us also about three years to become a loving couple who knew how to properly care for one another...and another twenty or so to get good at it. This August it will be 33 years. Amazing.

Now I have been observing my teenage son learn how to cope with young women. He's had a few girlfriends, and made his mistakes. He probably has plenty of mistakes yet to make. He's just nineteen, after all. But he's living in the X generation, culturally. X for eXtreme. With his crowd the X games are more popular than the Olympics. When my generation dies out, the Olympics will have either withered away or changed radically.

Anyway, it is a good thing he has free night and weekend minutes on his cell phone, and his girlfriend the same, because he manages to talk to her 1500+ minutes per month, without incurring extra charges on our 500-minute family plan. I guess if he can bear waiting to marry until he finishes college, they'll also have a huge dollop of conversation to base a solid relationship on. I sometimes wonder if they won't run out of things to talk about...but my wife and I have been talking for 33 years and haven't run out yet, so there's hope.

Everything else he and his generation do, they do at breakneck speed. The ones who never give themselves leisure to communicate, over months and years, are those who become the "50% divorce" statistics. I hope better things for my son.

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