ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Delight of Decades —

In high school, I had a particularly memorable social studies teacher named Mr. Damon.

His approach to classes was to have a monologue. This monologue lasted the entire semester and was punctuated by the ending and beginning of classes. I am not being exaggerative to say that many classes began with us sitting down, him starting where he left off and then continuing until the bell. His opinion, as far as I can tell, was that the school year was way too short and if we only had classes with him for x number of hours, then it was critical to fill 98% of those x hours with monologue. I got a lot of facts in those classes, of variant amounts, but one could not argue we weren’t given enough information to work with.

He had no real notes, no overriding theme; he would start in the beginning and head on through, describing history, social trends, important figures. He was on rails, mostly, but his information was aligned ahead of time enough for him to be able to jump off these rails and then click right back in where he last left off.

One memorable exchange was when the overhead florescent lights blinked. He continued as if nothing had happened, until he hit a break point, an end of a paragraph. Then:

“Did anyone else see the lights blink?”

Kids murmured ascension or said yes or nodded.

“Good. I wasn’t sure if I was having a heart attack.” And then he went right back into the monologue.

Anyway, one line of his from way back then stuck in my mind. He was talking about, as I recall, perspective on history and time, and what that meant in understanding events. And he spontaneously went off about our youth.

At the age of 15, he explained, we had no perspective, no idea what decades were, what that meant; they were just words to us, time not yet something behind us, but before us. So when we were covering events and relaying years and time as measurements, we, the students, had to do our best to gain perspective on things that in many cases took multiple iterations of our lives to complete.

And then he kicked back into the monologue.

This idea has stuck with me, and now, in my late 30s, it’s nice to start thinking of things that way. Being online 25 years ago. Having friends for a quarter century. Being a decade out of college, a decade and a half out of high school.

So too, I run into people who talk to me who were born in 1990. Or who didn’t get online until had already started. Or who ask me questions that I can recall being at, that their parents hadn’t even met yet. It helps me when I talk to people who feel the same way about me, this guy who wasn’t even born when they did the thing I am interviewing them about, or where I was a tiny voice enjoying their work and now am asking them the questions, what will stand as their record for what they did.

It’s sad, of course, to think of my life plummeting towards its end, and being years ahead towards that unwanted goal. But in the meantime, I am enjoying the view backwards. It has become wide, vast, and varied. It was once anything but, and I remember that, decades ago.

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