Magazine article Humanities

Your Place in Time

Magazine article Humanities

Your Place in Time

Article excerpt

How have generations of Americans adapted to technology, from cars to Palm Pilots? The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, tackles this question in "Your Place in Time: 20th Century America," a new exhibition that opens December 15, 1999. Together, the museum and Popular Mechanics, which helped with the exhibition, celebrate the explosion in consumer gadgetry. After the exhibition opens, the magazine will run a series of stories that deal with topics covered in the exhibition.

Technically attuned boomers play a big part in the exhibition, which focuses on the cultural signposts of five generations as they hit adolescence and young adulthood. It moves from the Progressives of the 1900s through the Generation Xers, to the youngest, Generation V, who -the museum reports-recognize more brand names than they do politicians.

Reflecting on the Mach 2 velocity of technological development of the late twentieth century, Jay McGill, publisher of Popular Mechanics sees a change in perspective across generations. "You no longer accept, you expect," he says. For baby boomers and Generation Xers, he explains, more powerful machines-especially PCs, laptops, and Palm Pilots -don't hit the market fast enough. "It's expected that technologies become obsolete in two years," McGill adds.

Visitors will learn by seeing, hearing, touching, and feeling the atmospheres their grandparents, parents, and children remember. To represent early times after 1900, for instance, there's a nickelodeon modeled on those in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, circa 1907-1908. Endelman's staff interviewed people who saw movies there and still complained, she says: "It was noisy, because people would read the subtitles out loud to each other, to kids, or to people who couldn't read."

Endelman believes that the theme of generational one-upmanship will attract visitors. She's counting on the irresistible impulse that makes a Gen-Xer sneer in one breath at his mom's avocado-green appliances and, in the next, buy a lava lamp for his apartment.

Designing an exhibition that highlights our intergenerational differences meant involving the public, says Endelman. When she surveyed prospective visitors, she found that the majority liked the idea of a generational approach that looked at how our characters and attitudes are shaped by the times in which we live. …

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