08 January 2024

I laughed the first time I heard...

I've been thinking about the changing pace of change as the new year rolls in. Before the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840 or thereabouts), the pace of change was glacial. From then until World War I, the pace was leisurely. Since World War II, it's increased exponentially, and the paradigm shift those of us born in the twentieth century have lived through to the digital age have sent it supernova.

My Aunt Hilda, who was still alive and kicking ten years ago, was born the day the Titanic hit the iceberg (ie, the day before it sank), so a lot of this change has taken place in my own lifetime. I've been thinking about how absurd the new and different can seem to us until it arrives and we have a chance to process and get used to it.

I remember a friend's shtik, many years ago now, about the difference between Godzilla movies and American monster movies (neither of which I ever watched). According to her, in the Godzilla movies, the populace of Japan wasted no time before they screamed and ran for their lives. In contrast, it took up to fifty percent of American movies for the hero or scientists who knew the monster was real and on the way to convince the government, the military, and/or the public. Since I still don't watch monster or any other horror movies, I don't know if this is still true. My guess is that the whole world runs when they hear that zombies are on the move. And when catastrophes are reported in real life these days, we'd all better take it seriously.

My point is that I have vivid memories of laughing the first time I became aware of what in several instances turned out to be a culture-changing moment.

I laughed the first time I heard, "The fall production at the New York Public Theater will be Hair, A Tribal Love Rock Musical."

Actually, the whole audience at Shakespeare in the Park in Central Park that summer evening laughed at that announcement on the loudspeaker at intermission. It was 1967, and sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll would never be the same.

I laughed the first time I heard the phrase, "fashionable Columbus Avenue."
I'd lived on Columbus Avenue since 1967, moving in with my first husband to the building on West 86th Street where I still live. When I said I lived on the Upper West Side, people said, "Oh, yes, West Side Story." To them, the West Side was mean streets infested with rival gangs, presumably not dancing Jerome Robbins choreography to Leonard Bernstein music. Remember that Lincoln Center, the great cultural mecca a twenty block walk down Columbus, wasn't completed till 1969. My first husband used to park his ancient Jaguar XKE on the street off Columbus on West 84th, informally known as the Murder Block. There was at least one bar on every block and derelicts we didn't yet call the homeless or expect to see in residential neighborhoods sprawled on the sidewalk. By 1972, fashionable Columbus Avenue was in its heyday. Street performers abounded. I remember a string quartet that specialized in Mozart. None of the early upscale restaurants, where a special-occasion dinner cost an astronomical $20, have survived, but I remember Ruelle's at 75th Street, which was furnished in 1890s bordello, all dark red velvet and naughty black and white photos, and the Museum Café at 77th Street, with its glassed-in outdoor dining area overlooking the Museum of Natural History. That was when I stopped taking the bus or subway. Unless I have to go south of 59th Street or several long blocks east of Central Park (say, to First or Second Avenue), fifty years later, like so many New Yorkers, I still walk everywhere.

I laughed when I heard, "Filipino revolutionaries say they couldn't have conducted their last two revolutions without cell phones." Also, "They're doing online counseling successfully in Japan. The client and counselor are in the same room, but they type instead of making eye contact and talking to each other."
In this case, context is needed. At the turn of the 21st century, I became one of the second wave of pioneers of online mental health. I belonged to the International Society of Mental Health Professionals (ISMHO), along with many of the true pioneers, theoreticians, researchers, and clinicians, mostly psychologists but also some psychiatrists, counselors, and clinical social workers, who had been around since the mid-1990s. This was before everybody had a cell phone. Before we used the term "texting." When I got a lot of flak, sometimes contempt, when I told traditional psychotherapists I worked with clients online. That continued all the way up to the pandemic, when they jumped on board and became the competition.

What innovation did you laugh at—and live to see the innovation have the last laugh?


  1. Liz, I think I’ve only seen Frankenstein and King Kong, but I can imagine my scientific curiosity overriding my sense of self-preservation and shouting, “Wait! He’s got a thorn in his foot!”

    And a certain psychiatrist stopping mid-street on 3rd Avenue saying, “Oh, you poor, broken-hearted thing. Lie back… Never mind, I can get a new sofa. Just lie back and tell Liz all about it.”

    Liz, most of my career has been hi-tech, so I’ve not experienced many surprises except for the exponentially increasing pace of invention. If I’m gobsmacked, it’s more likely due to some godawful political or social upheaval, usually not the good kind.

    But to answer your question indirectly, I think of my grandmothers. How astonishing to literally have been born into a horse-drawn world and within their lifetime see a man landed on the moon. I’ve spent considerable speculation wrapping my mind around that.

    1. Leigh, as I keep reminding you, not a psychiatrist. They're pill-pushers with MDs. I have a Master's degree in social work, practice psychotherapy, call myself a shrink because what matters most is getting the point across. Yes, the change is mind-boggling, and now, with AI emerging into the light, I suspect we're beginning another paradigm shift.

    2. My apologies, Liz. I've gotten myself in trouble because I started to use the word 'shrink' but didn't know if that was perjorative or not!

    3. Leigh, not all psychotherapists like it, but I think it puts people at ease. It's one of those words that's always tongue in cheek yet has crept into everyday usage, like "snuck" instead of "sneaked."

  2. I laughed when I saw Donald Trump ride down that escalator to annouce he was a cadidate for president. I still laughed on election night when they said he MIGHT have a chance. I stopped laughing the next morning and haven't laughed since.

  3. Yeah, Jerry. We thought Reagan was a funny candidate too until he won. It's the end result in politics of what publishers and agents have been telling writers for the past twenty years, that the most important thing is to have a "platform," meaning a marketable presence with a pre-existing audience.

  4. I agree with Jerry. But also, personal computers? I laughed at that idea. Who'd ever need those?

    1. In 1974 when the MITS Altair debuted, I was seriously considering installing a baby mainframe in my basement. My significant other said something like, "It's that thing or me." If I had been a better futurist, I could have seen how that turned out.

  5. Eve, I resisted personal computers and before them, the electronic typewriters with limited digital functions like an early version of Spellcheck. I remember saying, "If it doesn't know how to spell 'dysfunctional,' it's no good to me." I'm still laughing at Spellcheck, but that's another story.

  6. Elizabeth, I was teaching marketing at college in the mid 1990s (and for decades after.) But I remember saying to my class, "Don't worry about telemarketing. It won't last, because NOBODY would be stupid enough to buy over the phone from someone they don't know." (Hits head against desk)

  7. If people were all like me, Melodie, you would have been right. But I march to a different drummer in a number of ways, including living without debt.

  8. Liz, your article unusually deals with futurism. A dismaying feature of the discipline isn’t how well even professionals predict, but how poorly. Two of the best futurists have been Jules Verne and John Brunner, but the job of a SciFi writer isn’t to predict inventions, but to explore society, hence speculative fiction. As 2020 rolled off the assembly line, who could have predicted multiple genders with a plethora of personal pronouns would sweep the nation?

    May I suggest a couple of technical predictions? I’ve been watching development of smart vehicles or I should say intelligent vehicles. Tesla, for example, has two levels– autopilot and full self-driving (FSD).

    It’s not their present purview, but I realized the day will come when cars will talk with one another. Say a truck is positioned between intelligent cars A and B (blocking the view of B), when A realizes an accident is about to happen. It flashes a warning picked up by car B, which acts upon it to avoid or mitigate an otherwise inevitable wreck.

    A couple of years ago, a burglar (named Trumpp!!) broke into my garage where a Tesla was parked. The car realized it and took brilliant footage of the guy used to prosecute him. Nothing special here, but suppose thieves roamed through a parking lot or municipal garage and intelligent vehicles started photographing and warning other cars. Bad guy breaks the window of car A and cars D, K, and Q photograph the evidence?

    Florida pays the nation’s highest insurance rates, often more than the car payment itself, but application of current tech could bring fees way down.

    And as I channeled Cassandra, they laughed.

    1. Doesn't John Floyd have a story in which the car decides it doesn't want to be a good guy?


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>