In honor of their 160th birthday, The Atlantic launched a project this week that can show you how much the world has changed since you were born. All you need to do is input your birthday, and the timeline lists 10 to 13 milestone events that have happened in your lifetime, as well as looking back to just before your birth and making some projections about what might happen in the future. It's fun, yes — but it also provides some valuable perspective which is all the more necessary in our current times.
The project uses The Atlantic’s vast archives to show you your place in time among events in modern history. It notes everything from movie releases to technologic innovations to international news stories; then it pairs them with pieces published in The Atlantic to give you some perspective on what’s changed in your lifetime.
For example, if you were born in 1990, you were one of the first people who’s never lived in a world without Game Boys. Are you a 1999 baby? You’re one of the first to have never seen a world without Google. If you were born in ‘85, you’re part of the generation who’s never lived in a world without Macintosh computers.
The events on your timeline will range from serious and world-changing to silly and minute. My timeline notes that I’m part of the generation “most shaped by 9/11.” It also shows me what Hollywood thought teenagers looked like the year I became one. Agent Cody Banks came out the year I turned 13. So, 13-year-old me is super pumped about having any association with Hilary Duff.
In addition to a healthy dose of nostalgia, however, this timeline gives you a visual representation of some of major societal shifts that have happened thus far in your lifetime. My timeline shows that I was born the same year as Michael Sam, who became the first openly gay player to be drafted to the NFL in 2014. Someone born in 2003 can very easily imagine a black president because they were five when Obama was elected.
At the risk of sound like a “wanna feel old???” meme, it’s encouraging to think about the way cultural perspective shifts as future generations come of age. Not only do 18-year-olds not know a time before Google, they likely find it more difficult to imagine a United States without marriage equality and are part of a generation who most supports same-sex marriage.
If nothing else, this life timeline is some good perspective if, say, you know someone who has lived through major civil rights movements but is still somehow unable to acknowledge widespread prejudice that exists today. (Sorry, Racist Grandparents! Your age doesn’t excuse your racism. It just tells the rest of us you saw society change but learned nothing.)
The timeline ends with a look forward, making predictions about things like the economy and the environment. (Not to ruin the ending, but global warming isn’t going away anytime soon.) Every timeline concludes with the line, “History is happening all around you, every day.”
Given the current political climate, most of us are probably well aware that history is happening right now. What we may overlook is the change that has happened, and continues to happen, gradually. As you've likely heard, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."
While time alone does not solve injustice, it's important be reminded that when paired with hard work, good things do happen. There is a lot of change we will get to see in each of our lifetimes. Until then, we can all be reassured to know that chunky highlights are a thing of the past.