Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Time changes everything

Yesterday I watched a half hour long documentary about DeKalb, "Our Town," filmed by Clark C. Cryor. It was filmed in 1967, or a little more than 44 years ago. Many of the places shown in building, including parts of the Northern Illinois University campus and downtown, look the same now as they did in 1967. This is limited to the buildings, because trees, cars, street lights, and signs all look different now.

In addition to the obvious differences in fashion and social standards (for example, the mayor and the city council were showcased and all referred to as "men of vision," a statement that would be politically incorrect today), I was surprised to see how many wires cluttered the skyline. One shot in a neighborhood in the north side of town looked to be a sea of wires and poles. Added to the mix were the television antennas. I'd forgotten how much of our utilities have moved underground since then.

Other places, even though they were identified in the documentary, looked completely unfamiliar. One shot on North First Street showed two lanes of traffic and children walking on a dirt path along the road. I must have watched this scene five or six times to try and place its location, and couldn't. The narrator said the city was looking into putting sidewalks in, which they eventually did.

And even though downtown DeKalb looked familiar, especially the buildings and train tracks, none of the business names remained. I looked up one prominent restaurant name, the Sea Breeze, and learned that the owner of this restaurant eventually moved to Galena, IL, and bought another restaurant, The Log Cabin, in the 1970s, which is still open to this day. But every other downtown business that existed in 1967 is gone today.

The documentary also showed footage of a group of men from DeKalb visiting Kalamazoo, Michigan, and seeing how this city closed down its main downtown street and opened a pedestrian mall. I guess DeKalb considered doing the same thing, possibly re-routing Lincoln Highway traffic south of the main drag. But this never happened.

As I walked around town today, I wondered what the city will look like 40 years in the future, and even how much it has changed in the 15 years that I've been associated with DeKalb. And as I looked at the footage of skinny ties, crew cuts, men wearing suits to casual functions, and smoking indoors, I wonder what contemporary habits will make people of the future shake their in wonder at the naivete and stupidity of those people of 2011.

Here are a few predictions. In light of recent findings, people of the future will marvel that the people of 2011 used cell phones that caused brain cancer, and that such clunky devices only transmitted sound and images. In the future, telecommunications will be more like telepathy. There will be no visible interface devices. Implants or the tiniest of microchips will fulfill all of our communication needs.

Also, people of the future will laugh at our dietary habits. They will not believe that we allowed corporations to dupe us into eating such unhealthy, processed, and chemically-laden food. They will note how inefficient our agricultural practices were and how out-of-tune we were with our environment. They will also not believe how much we were duped by the pharmaceutical industry into spending so many billions of dollars on medicines that only masked major problems and caused awful side effects.

Of course, people of the future will scoff at our use of fossil fuels to power our automobiles and provide electricity. Forty years from now they may still be used, but not by industrialized Western nations. Our energy usage will need to become more environmentally sustainable to avoid economic collapse and further ecological degradation. Our current practices are cannot continue for 40 more years.

NOTE: Click on the link above for a list of films created by Clark C. Cryor from the 1950s to the 70s. He died in 1977. Most of these films are available on DVD at the DeKalb Public Library.

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