I started picking up on the changes in myself oh, I don't know, about five or six years back. But just how different the world itself is never really started to sink in until a year or two ago. I'm 32, so I did most of my growing up in the 70's and early 80's. There are some big obvious examples of how different things are now, of course - no Iron Curtain, computers everywhere (which is a particularly important change to me personally, of course), even more important than the computers themselves, the all-pervasive network that has sprung up around them... all those are pretty easy to pick out, even if I did personally have to hit 30 before I really thought about the fact that I grew up in an era that didn't even have email. But there's some pretty big changes that don't stand out quite so much, either.
Last night, P33T and I wound up standing around outside my apartment so he could have a cigarette break from the movie we were watching. My two next-door neighbors on the right were out there too, and I walked over to talk to them while I waited for P33T to come back from whatever he'd just ducked back inside for. Now, I quit smoking the herb on an active basis several years ago, and I haven't had any even socially for probably a year or so. But I don't have any kind of religious commandment against it or anything, so I gladly took a spot in the rotation when it was offered.
My apartment complex is basically working-class ghetto - a little run down, definitely inexpensive, no real drama going on but a long shot from being suburbia. J and M, my neighbors, fit the place a lot better than I do really. J is a really nice guy, very friendly, and I exchange casual pleasantries with him pretty much every day on the way out or on the way in, but I never really got to know him very well. Anyway, J and M and I are standing around talking and passing the hand-rolled, and I just sort of drifted with the conversation. It mostly seemed to be about the life and times of DMX, and about the neighbor next door on the other side who sold $200 sports jerseys (or at the very least something that looked just like them) for $30. M proudly displayed the one he was wearing as an example thereof, and I... just kinda nodded politely and tried to make like I grokked why it was so cool. Then the conversation drifted to how somebody else they know is a DVD bootlegger, and that J had a bajillion DVDs of movies that were still in the theatre, and etc etc etc. I was pretty baked, I mostly just made the obligatory comparisons between Tupac and DMX, and smiled a lot. Then J finished his beer - and casually, without thinking twice about it, he hauled back and slung the bottle over the fence at the edge of the complex to smash in the wooded area on the other side.
Which leads me back to the theme of the post - changes in myself, and changes in the world around me. I was already feeling like "jesus, these are nice guys and all that, but am I not a little too old to be standing in a parking lot, talking about pirated Jerseys and DMX's rise to fame and bootleg DVD's like they're the coolest things in the world?" But J's casual smashing of a beer bottle 10 feet from his front door really iced the cake. A growing feeling that I had somehow stumbled onto the set of a competitor series to Trailer Park Boys solidifed hurriedly, and I caught P33T's eye, made friendly "we're gonna go finish the movie now" noises, and made a polite escape. I kept thinking about that smashed beer bottle that night, though, and I found myself thinking about it again today.
Yeah, I personally have grown up a little too much to be cool with breaking bottles just out of sight of my own door. But it's not just me. Growing up, in the 70's, litter was a very commonplace and a very casual thing. Most people didn't think twice about rolling down the car window and chucking a fast food bag out on the highway, or leaving trash in the woods when they went camping, or just tossing whatever they currently found inconvenient to carry on the ground wherever they happened to be at the moment. It was normal. People would complain when the levels of visual garbage got too high, and if it was a highly enough trafficked area somebody would eventually get together a boy scout troop or a church youth group or some such to go pick up the worst of it, but you knew it was going to need it again soon enough. For that matter, you knew that those scouts - and their parents - would probably be some of the same ones casually dumping trash right back in the places they'd just cleaned up.
But it's a different world now, or at least I live in a different part of it. The anti-littering slogans and campaigns that seemed idealistic in the 70's seem like the absolute barest common sense today - there're just too fucking many people everywhere now for any of them to be able to be casual about making a big mess.
There are plenty of other social and economic differences between now and then, too, of course. For one thing, I remember when damn near every job that was advertised for in a newspaper included "paid training", and "experience" meant any kind of job experience that was applicable to the sorts of things you were expected to do in that job, not "time spent holding a job with precisely the same title as this one." The amount of the nation's wealth concentrated in the hands of the top 2% didn't seem so staggeringly huge then, either, and even if we couldn't trust out presidents not to run arms to the Contras, at least we could trust them not to throw us in jail for bitching about it.
If you were looking for me to tie all this meandering blather up with a nice pretty ribbon and pin a conclusion to it, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. I don't really have anything for you. It's just been a "pondering life" kind of a day.