Back to the future

Dick Eastman shared this video on his blog yesterday, and I’m captivated by it. It’s been modified on a computer so that it plays at normal speed and you can hear the sound. It looks like real life – not the speedy herky-jerkiness of most old films that make the people seem like cartoons. These folks look like real people. It’s a window into time. Dick says:

“As you watch this video, please think about this: every single person in it is no longer alive, and strangers 100 years later are watching them from devices the folks in the video had never seen or heard of before, called “computers” and “smart phones.”

I think that’s exactly what fascinates me about it. We’re watching ghosts. Only they weren’t ghosts then. They were people, just like you and me, living their lives that day, just like any other day. Worried about their kids, or their job, or thinking about the weekend, or whatever. They mattered to other people – their families, friends, co-workers. They had names and addresses.

In no way could they know what the next day would bring, or the next hour, or even the next minute. Just like us. They couldn’t see into the future. They certainly couldn’t have imagined that a 56 year-old woman in Michigan would be watching them walk down a street in New York City 107 years later on a little screen, while sitting at her desk, taking a break from work.

In 1911 so much was ahead that would affect their lives – the Titanic sinking, WWI, the influenza epidemic, all just in the next few years. And beyond – could the black man driving that car envision a time in this country when all people of color would be free and able to vote? How many of those women in their hats and long dresses were suffragettes? Just 9 years until they were able to vote. Much longer for the black driver  – did he live to enter a voting booth legally?

It’s all so strange to think about – individuals and history, and the reality that we’re all here for a short time and that the world will go on after we’re gone. Whatever troubled those people in 1911, or gave them joy is gone with them. The baby in the stroller had a whole life ahead. Just a little younger than my grandmother – I wonder where she lived and whether she married, whether her children and grandchildren carry on now. Perhaps she died in childhood. Many children died then from diseases we think nothing of now.

What will the world be like in 2125? What will the people then make of our lives 107 years earlier, in which every moment is documented on social media? That’s if there still are humans then, and a planet for them to inhabit. We can no more imagine life in 2125 than these folks in 1911 could envision 2018.

I love to think about things like this, but it sort of sends my head spinning, too. In 1911 there were roughly 1.6 billion people on this planet. In 2018 it’s 7 times that. Six billion more people. Walking around, living their lives, just like you and me. Some will be born today. Some will die. Most of us are known only to a handful of people  – more now, I guess, thanks to social media – not very important in the big scheme of things. Important, though, to ourselves and to our family and friends and our communities.

Ultimately, my life still comes down to what is facing me today – my mom, my work, my bike ride this evening. What I had for breakfast, what I’m going to have for lunch and dinner. How much sleep I got last night and how much I’m going to get tonight, what comes in the mail, and whether I’ll hear from a friend or family member online or via text. What I think about or read or watch. Who and what I care about.

Tomorrow will be much the same, probably. And after that, and after that…

The same was true for the people in the video, because that’s life. It’s in each moment, each activity, each thought, each emotion. They had their joys and sorrows, and so do we, played out in each moment of our time on this planet. Life doesn’t happen in hundreds of years, not really. It happens now, moment by moment.

That’s the challenge: BE HERE NOW. I struggle with it everyday – I want to know what’s ahead. I worry and I plan until anxiety starts to rule my life again, and then I have to step back – literally – into the moment, and breathe. Breathe.


We can’t see the future. We head into it blindly moment by moment, day by day. That’s the way it’s always been, and probably will always be. It’s scary and exciting, and the only way to do it is just to take a step. And another.

And another.

And breathe. Just breathe.



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