Opinion Columns & Blogs

Walker: Pace of societal change has increased dramatically

“The Times They Are a Changin’”

-- Bob Dylan, 1964

I was born in 1942 at the Middle Georgia Hospital. Mother and I stayed in Macon for over a week, and then she and I were taken by ambulance to our home in Perry and, according to Mother, “past the beautiful blooming peach trees.” It wouldn’t happen that way today, as times have changed. And, it wouldn’t have happened that way when Mother was born at her home on Hay Road in Perry 22 years earlier. Times had slowly changed between 1920 and 1942.

I was born into a hot world -- at least it would be hot in Georgia by the time I made it to June, and being able to do something about the Georgia heat and diaper rash was nearly impossible until we got air conditioning in the late 1950s. It would have been a window unit cooling one or two rooms. Still, we Southerners were ever so slowly winning our battle with the heat.

It was a tightly segregated society, by race, that I entered in 1942. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, and the U.S. Supreme Court issued its school decision, Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954, but it would be about 20 more years before there was much racial integration in the South. There were no African-American students at Perry High School when I graduated in 1960 and only one African-American in the class behind me when I graduated from UGA Law in 1965. Social changes, of almost all kinds, were very slow.

I remember our first TV. The set was big and bulky. We got one or two stations. Reception was black, white and very fuzzy. It came on at 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning and, prior to that time, I had to watch the test pattern, which I was excited to do. The stations went off the air at “sunset” with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. Then we eventually got more stations, longer hours, color, remote control and cable, but those improvements probably covered 40 years or so.

Automobiles improved dramatically between 1958 and the 1990s. Tires would last 50,000 miles. We got car air conditioning, but Daddy restricted its use as “running the air conditioning lowered the gas mileage.” Still, over the 40 years or so, there was a good deal of change. Couple the improvements with birth control pills, better roads, more places to go, an “entitlement” to an automobile by many of those 16 years of age, and this was a pretty major societal change, but again, it happened over many years. And, come to think about it, air conditioning in autos probably helped to accelerate more promiscuous activities.

I’ve gone from a world where no person with any class would say words like “panties,” “breast,” “pregnant,” “condoms,” “constipation” and many others in public, to a world where you can see more on TV, today, than were available for viewing at tent shows at the old county fairs -- and I’m just thinking about the commercials. Compare what can be shown, and said, today on TV with what could be said, shown and advertised 20 years ago, and it’s dramatic. It was a slow change, but it got here about 20 years ago, and it’s changing ever so rapidly today.

And, what do we have now? Phones/cameras/games that astound and become obsolete within months. Video recordings, by something or someone, of most everything that happens. Loss of privacy. Medical miracles. Driverless autos. Trips to planets? Drugs -- legal and illegal. Many who think they know everything. Difficulty of elected leaders to lead those who know everything. Loss of social mores. Churches and religious beliefs under attack, etc., etc.

The times have changed. From 1942 to the 1990s, changes were slow, understandable, but significant and most people could absorb and keep up. And then “change” sped up and many fell behind. It is as they say, apparently, “We haven’t seen anything yet.” Where will all of this take us -- or take some? Indeed, Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A Changin’.”

Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: lwalker@whgmlaw.com.