What Is It About Now

In a wonderful essay for Harper's, Rebecca Solnit wrote that the present may be defined as "all that is remembered by those who are currently alive," which, as she goes on to elucidate, includes the living's memories of the memories of all those they have known, alive and dead. Thus the present of the 21st century contains something of World War I, Vietnam, the creation of the interstate highway system, the planting of salmon in the Great Lakes, the invention of the birth control pill, the heartbreak and trauma and intense fear and hatred surrounding the AIDS epidemic, and the way it killed the promise of "free love" for some of us.

As I go through boxes and albums and read the letters and daily planners and look at snapshots of my ancestors, I am curious about how their lives epitomized the ideas and technologies of their time. Were they early adopters of the automobile and television, or did they hold off as long as possible, as I tried to do with the smartphone? Were they feminists and freethinkers before or after those ideas emerged into mass awareness? I find myself being pleased by forward-seeming thought and action when I find it in these documents, even when the idea or gadget in question is something I sometimes feel never should have happened, like the automobile. And it makes me wonder: if a descendant of mine should read my diaries ever, or hear a story about me, will they be similarly pleased? 

It interests me to look at what lens the future will bring to examine this time, and what will be revealed as awesome about now, as I am here, now, amid all the things that seem so wrong. What does it mean to take full advantage of whatever tools and notions our time in history has provided, is providing, could provide?