The 1920s were a lot like us.
1920s people went through dramatic changes that left the world a different place from what it was before. They knew uncertainties and even fears, but also great excitement and potentialities.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
They faced challenges that were very similar to ours: the changing role of different social groups, a great change in the way people communicate, the intrusion of the machine in everyday life with the consequent depersonalisation. They faced a world that shrunk as it globalised a little more every day and a feeling of loneliness in the new city environments.
In different ways, this is what’s happening to us today. The mode may be different, but the essence and the feeling are just the same.
This short book is meant to give an introduction to the Twenties as a historical moment and a social change.
The Twenties was mostly a Western World phenomenon, but it reached out to other parts of a world that was starting to become globalised. Where possible, I tried to give glimpses of what was happening outside the confines of Europe and the United States.
The book is organised alphabetically. Every word covers an aspect of the Twenties that characterised it uniquely. It isn’t meant to be exhaustive in any way, but I hope that it will help to give a more complete, more complex image of what was far more than Prohibition, gangsters and gin.
The 1920s and the 2020s
One hundred years now separate us from the 1920s, but doesn’t that decade still sound a lot like us?
Sure, the world, the lifestyle, the knowledge, everything has advanced, and it might look so very different now. What in the 1920s was new and modern and even wild is now commonplace. So commonplace that we take it for granted. We barely give thought to it.
And still, there is a lot that hasn’t changed. Or rather, that has come back in our lives in a way that we might not have expected.
In so many ways, we face the same challenges and the same fears and the same insecurities that 1920s people faced. And surprisingly, most of those fears and insecurities come from very similar sources: technical advancements, new social behaviours, a necessary relation to the ‘diverse’, the ‘different‘.
1920s people often thought that these changes would have cause their civilisation to fall. They were afraid of losing their identity just as much as we are today.
It felt a very real danger to them – but it didn’t happen. They changed, sure. They evolved. They found new ways.
Maybe this is what we’ll do as well, beyond all our fears.
What about the 1920s?
The 1920s were years of passage. WWI had destroyed the old world. In the 1920s, people desperately tried to understand what kind of world they were living in now. They experimented a lot. They tried out new languages, new outlooks on life. Society and the concept of what was acceptable change in a way that young people embraced, but older people feared.
Technology advanced shockingly fast. What at the beginning of the century might have been considered fantasy or science fiction, in the 1920s was real life.
Exciting as it was, the new world wasn’t all that easy to settle in, not even for those who loved it. People moved a lot, also in response to the destruction caused by WWI. Coming in contact with different people and different cultures was one more challenge. It was one more problem people had to face in a moment where stability and certainties seemed to have vanished.
Change, that great defining characteristic of the 1920s, created excitement which turned into creativity, but also fears that turned into intolerance.
The 1920s were times of contradiction. Just like our times.
Maybe they can teach us something valuable.