By J. Hogan
Life on Earth was a hard, mostly rural, wearying slog for centuries, and technological advances were made at a stately pace of one or two major changes in any given field during the average person’s lifelong career.
Then the Industrial Revolution hit, starting around the time of the Civil War, and change came faster. Advances increased production, and factories and mills employed thousands, causing towns and cities to grow rapidly.
Pittsburgh itself was an outpost for its first century, barely populated, and mostly in the river valleys.
Then Andrew Carnegie and his Carnegie Steel (later US Steel) made the region America’s metal material foundry, and Pittsburgh’s population grew fast, and haphazardly.
When an out-of-towner talks of the crazy road patterns here, we default to the rivers, hills and bridges for the simple explanation, but just as important is that this isn’t a “planned community.”
Go to flat Houston, Texas and the streets, municipally planned, are laid out parallel and perpendicular on a grid, with themed street names and standard numbering.
Conversely, Pittsburgh is an unplanned place, a “just happened” place, where the need for immediate housing as the population swelled to staff the railyards and steel mills had folks slapping houses on every steep hillside in and in every nook and cranny, naming streets after founding families and old haunts, and the numbering reflects a lack of planning, as well.
Downtown, you can drop a letter in the mailbox at 7th and 7th. Drive over to California Avenue on the North Side and the addresses go up as you drive downriver. Then California becomes Lincoln Avenue in Bellevue, the numbers swap, and, after a few blocks Lincoln becomes California again, the numbers swap… and restart so that some addresses down by Marshall Avenue in the city have the same street name and number, on the same thoroughfare, when the road enters Avalon.
That type of unplanned outcome can be confusing, and the pace of advances has increased exponentially in the last 40 years, leaving many folks feeling like that proverbial out-of-towner trying to negotiate Pittsburgh’s streets.
People who grew up in homes with no phone have seen their first rented, black, heavy Bell party line phone (where a street would share a line, assisted by an operator) become a single party line, then a purchased, sleek, lightweight Slimline phone.
Then came “call waiting,” followed by the phone line carrying computer data over early computer modems.
Now everyone’s phone is a supercomputer, used to watch shows, read news, send mail, pay bills, and order door delivery of everything from a sandwich and fries to a giant screen TV.
All this in little more than a half century.
The pace of change has been astounding and has created thousands of new avenues for entrepreneurs to chase their dreams, and made life better in many, many ways. The computer assisted changes in oncology and other medical fields alone have been startling in impact and saved many lives.
Of course, the same advances have created many bad impacts as well. Pornography proliferates as never before, and computers have enabled us to socially isolate and rudely clash with others on social media in ways most would never speak face to face. Computers have also allowed many myths to spread, and digital shenanigans create “evidence” of things that never happened, allowing fake news and narratives to spread and manipulate.
The pace of change is only speeding up, and we have to be wise, discerning, ethical and moral to deal with this truth well. We can’t slow it down, and most of the changes will inform how life is lived in the years ahead, so we can’t ignore it and refuse to learn or adapt… but we have to be able to reason and decide how and if to utilize what we learn, and we have to have principles to stand firm when others abuse new platforms and technology.
Our brains have to deal with this pace, something humans before us didn’t have to deal with, so it’s all new territory.
We don’t yet know long-term effects and impact on our mental health and mindset.
Having moral standards by which we proceed through this uncharted landscape will go a long way to helping us roll with the changes instead of being rolled by the changes.
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.