I Saw These Happen: The 10 Most Amazing Developments in My Lifetime

The Beatles in America (Photo from US Library of Congress)

The Beatles in America (Photo from US Library of Congress)

One good thing about having lived out most of one's life is that one has a past to look back to – a past that can be as colorful or as grim as one wants it to be, a past that can be mined (read: revised or embellished) for stories to tell the grandchildren.

But the most important thing about having a past is that one can compare the then and now, and be constantly amazed at how the world was changed sometimes for the worse, but more often for the better.

I came up with this list of things that happened in my lifetime that still brings me to a state of wonder and yes, gratitude, that I was able to witness their unfolding.

In no particular order, here's my list:

1. The Internet and all the technologies that it spawned – Probably the most life-changing of all because it enabled many people, especially the disabled who are otherwise hampered by immobility or the lack of opportunity to engage more fully with the world. Online banking, telecommuting, online shopping, remote medical consultations, information at our fingertips were unthinkable just 25 years ago (at that time, the fax machine was already mind-blowing).

2. The microwave oven – Can you imagine life without this? It used to take forever to heat up food in the stove or oven, and the only way to defrost frozen meat was to take it out of the freezer hours before cooking.

3. E-books – Though I'm still largely on the fence about this – I'll take the feel and smell of real books anytime – I appreciate the option, especially when traveling.

4. Digital cameras – For those too young to imagine life before digicams, here's how we used to take pictures: Buy a roll of film, make sure you set up the picture correctly so you don't waste a shot, have the film developed (usually took a few days), pay for every print that comes out. If the pictures you took came out bad, tough. We had none of the luxury of taking pictures anytime, anywhere and deleting those that are bad or shameful.

5. Smart phones The technology started with simple cell phones – mini screens, no cameras, spotty service. And that was less than 20 years ago. Ten years ago, texting was still esoteric. The coming of the iPhone with its awesome bells and whistles changed telecommunications forever. And that was just a little over five years ago.

Beyond technology, there are changes that happened in my lifetime that have made the world a better place, and I'm so glad I'm still around to marvel at them:

6. Civil rights – I was already in high school when the Civil Rights Act was passed by the US Congress. Before that African-Americans were segregated, devoid of rights, discriminated against. Needless to say, this “Us vs. Them” mind-frame spilled over to other people of color, including Filipinos. San Leandro, California, where I reside, was considered then as the most racist city in the state, according to multitalented stage/radio/TV personality Brian Copeland, whose family was probably the first black family to dare penetrate this white stronghold. (In his long-running sensational one-man show, “Not A Genuine Black Man,” Copeland presents a poignant, disturbing and ultimately triumphant view of what he had to go through). A Filipino family who moved to San Leandro in the '70s had to endure a cross-burning in their front yard before the influx of people of various ethnicities overwhelmed the “white only” community enough to make them change the rules about house ownership here.

Today, San Leandro is considered one of the most diverse cities in California. And the country's First Family is black. How amazing is that!

7. Personal openness – Our generation didn't talk openly about our feelings; it was taboo to talk about sex except in whispers, and utterly shameful to be divorced. We had none of the validation we get now from media, friends, mentors, even parents that it is okay to be flawed, all right to have made wrong choices, no big deal to have had multiple sex partners, or, just in the past few years, to restructure face or bodies. Of course, confessionals can be taken too far, but overall I think it's healthy to not be shamed into dishonesty for just being human.

8. Multitalented musicians, groundbreaking music – Until the Beatles rocked the world in the mid-'60s, the top singers of those days had songs written for them. The Beatles changed all that and now the big-name stars are composers/singers/performers all at the same time and some of the music that has come out of their creative minds is diverse, intoxicating, definitely different from the pre-Beatles eras.

9. Same-sex marriage – Just three years ago, who would have thought! It’s one of the most gratifying developments in human rights that has taken place in my lifetime.

10. Medical advances – Cancer need not be a death sentence anymore, heart attacks and strokes can be prevented with procedures that have become commonplace and surgeries do not always mean having major cuts done to one's body. These days, probes and scopes can often do repairs, procedures can be done in doctors' offices without the need for confinement, and those who require complex surgeries can access the expertise of a specialist far away through telemedicine. Preventive medicine has allowed people to live longer and healthier.

What are the advances that make you love being alive today? Share me your list at gemma@positivelyfilipino.com.