If on January 24th 1984, the day the Macintosh computer came out, I slipped into a coma or through a time warp so that the next thing I knew it was 30 years later in New York City, how would things seem different?
The most surprising thing is that things are pretty much the same. No shiny science fiction future, no Blade Runner world either. Just the same old stuff with some differences.
Money: The money looks somewhat different. Prices have doubled.
New York: The subway trains are nicer. So is Times Square. The Twin Towers are gone. There is another building in their place. Strange. The city seems to have more wealth and confidence, but poverty is still high.
Race: New York is about as black as it ever was, but it has become more Asian and Hispanic and less white (from a half to a third of the city). On the other hand, Harlem is whiter. Whites seem more racist, especially:
The police stop and search blacks and Latinos more than they used to.
Cars: look more streamlined. Many have no trunk.
Colour screens are everywhere. They no longer require a heavy box that sits on a table.
Telephones no longer ring a loud bell. They are wireless and can fit in your pocket. Most people have one. They look at them even when they are not talking to anyone.
Video games are far more realistic looking and far more common.
Computers have pretty much become what Steve Jobs wanted in 1983:
[W]e want to put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you and learn how to use in 20 minutes … and we really want to do it with a radio link in it so you don’t have to hook up to anything and you’re in communication with all of these larger databases and other computers.
In 2014 the radio link is called Wi-Fi, and the “larger databases and other computers” are called the Internet. Email is common.
How to look stuff up: From library card catalogues to Google on the Internet.
Television: Everyone has cable television. There are tons of channels and they rarely go off the air. Animation and graphics are better.There are more ads, contest shows, partisan news and news comedies. American television seems as white as it ever was.
Music: Rap is much more common. Even white people listen to it.
Top R&B song on January 24th:
- 1984: Patti LaBelle: If Only You Knew
- 2014: Beyoncé featuring Jay Z: Drunk in Love
Cameras do not need film.
The New York Times has colour photos.
Magazines: Layout and graphics are better, writing more bite-sized. The skin of women in pictures sometimes looks strangely smooth.
Unfamiliar words and phrases: texting, cellphone, racial profiling, stop and frisk, al-Qaeda, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, tweets, twerk, app, “visit time.com” (where is it?), FLOTUS, cultural narrative, social media, empowerment, Islamist, outsourcing, genome, internet, 9/11 hijackers, mwahahaha.
Who is Oprah? Harry Potter? Rihanna? Spike Lee? Who are the Cosby Kids? What is crack? Starbucks?
Less common or gone: watches, boom boxes, Walkmans, record players, VCRs, video arcades, Woolworth’s, Jheri curls, Crazy Eddie ads, pay phones, telephone books, writing letters, marriage.
- early 1980s to early 2010s:
- The 2010s in science fiction:
- Patti LaBelle: If Only You Knew
- Steve Jobs
- racial profiling
- Living a year without the Internet
- King’s Dream at 50: A Report Card – comparing 2013 to 1963