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Generational Timelines

I find it useful to think in timelines in order to decide how long things take to change, mutate, grow, decline or whatever.
For instance, if I use myself as an anchor in time, I can note that I was born in 1954. I have a life expectancy (on the usual tables) to live until about 2030. Then again, I do plan to beat the actuarial odds.
My father was born in 1931 and had an actuarial table-based life expectancy at birth to live until about 2007. He’s planning on beating the odds too.
One of my grandfathers was born about 1898 and lived until the nineteen-seventies.
Now, my kids were born in 1985 and 1988. And this is where it gets interesting. With improvements in healthcare and other changes, they might realistically live into the 2080’s and beyond.
If I am planning to build an information architecture for long term community techologies and services to support these folks, my lifepan and personal experience isn’t long enough and my father’s experience isn’t long enough either.
I need to look at the experience of my grandfather to see what a timeline of 80 plus years of change looks like. Subtracting that from my kids’ birth years and I find myself back at the beginning of the last century. Hmmmm. What change occurred for him and his family in the first 80 plus years of the 20th century?
Faster train engines
Ubiquitous electricity
Indoor plumbing
Computers big and small
Interstate highways system
Fast Intercontinental travel
Mall shopping
Space travel
And, sadly, few awful wars and new military technologies
and on and on.
So, in much the same way as the electricity and wiring infrastructure that was built at the beginnng of last century mostly survived, we are tasked with building the new infrastructure for an information and knowledge-based society.
Therefore, when I frame my thoughts about what is going to happen over the lives of my kids, I worry that I am not thinking far enough out. Now, one of my colleagues accused me of being a bit too Jetson’s but I think it’s still worth framing the question in this timeframe occasionally. I can buikd a scenario that acknowledges the amount of change that occurs over a period that transcends our own experiences. That energizes me and scares me at the same time.
Are we thinking in the right timeframe? When we’re building our foundation for the next generation of libraries are we building a foundation that can support all that which may happen? It seems pretty clear that flexibility and nimbleness are the key. Are we building that into our systems or are we striving for a last century model of stability?

Posted on: February 23, 2006, 3:59 pm Category: Uncategorized

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