“Little Things Mean a Lot” is the name of a song popular at least two generations ago. Its words still resonate with romantics of all ages. Actually, it is the little niceties that human beings do for each other that often get us through the day. When the guy who could have cut you off when you are trying to change lanes, waves you into the lane, you breath a sigh of relief; when a stranger at the super market sees you struggling and reaches up to the top shelf for that elusive fresh can of coffee, you smile a grateful smile; when your teen-age daughter thoughtfully comes home before curfew, you relax. These kinds of things affect each of us personally. However, there are little things, which, for better or worse, change cultural patterns and/or mores.
Here are just three. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the tube was invented. Lots of gooey things could now be put into tubes. The most revolutionary thing that could now come in tubes was paint. Artists were no longer confined to studios and pots of paints. They could take trains out into the countryside to paint landscapes, sunsets, cityscapes crowds of people, etc. This little invention, along with the camera encouraged artists for the first time in Western history to depart from painting “reality”. The artists could take him/her self to a new level, along with the viewers. Thus, Impressionism, the precursor of all of the “isms” of the Twentieth century was born.
About a century later, another little thing was invented. “The pill”, i.e., an easy form of birth control. This drug in little pill form ushered in Women’s Liberation. Although the pill was hoped to be safe, effective means of family planning, free from the fear of an unwanted pregnancy, women were now free to be as promiscuous as men. This little pill has done more to shake up the first building block of society, the family, than any piece of legislation, for better or for worse.
The last little thing that I care to mention today is the microchip. This little thing ushered in the “Age of Communication”. In the US alone the microchip has increased industrial production significantly. The relative low cost of the varieties of communication available and used daily among all socio-economic groups and among all generations is a phenomenon unimagined less than 60 years ago. The growth and change continues caused by this little wonder is so rapid that governments cannot protect its citizens from those who would abuse, any and all modes of communication this little chip provides. Most recently, the microchip has enabled recruiters for terrorist organizations to reach thousands of disaffected youth all over the world.
The genie is out of the bottle. In free countries we are reluctant to cork up even part of the bottle. Right now, we are letting the “weeds grow with the wheat”. I hope and pray that a great conflagration does not destroy both.