By Emma Kaden
On November 11, 1918, World War I—then known as the Great War—ended. Not with a bang, but with an armistice signed by Germany and the Allies that finally made the guns fall silent. Much has changed since the armistice was signed—here’s a look at how the world has evolved since the end of World War I.
As the Great War ended, American soldiers came home to seek employment and return to normalcy. Because military innovation and weaponry were no longer needed, scientists and inventors could turn their attention to more consumer-oriented products. In fact, in the decade after World War I, a great machine would be invented that would change the human lexicon for all time: the bread-slicing machine. And henceforth, inventions (such as the CD, the telephone, and the digital camera), would all be “the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
In fact, if one were to travel through time from 1918 to 2018, one of the first things they would notice is the great advances in technology that have revolutionized society. For example, cars became more widespread and filled with creature comforts, spurring a transportation frenzy that led to commercial airplanes, cutting-edge public transportation, and so much more. Additionally, the computer has evolved from a bulky, primitive system to a device that not only fits in your pocket but can perform infinitesimally more functions at breathtaking speeds, shaping the way the world interacts with technology.
As hardware evolved, software redefined interpersonal relations in the blink of an eye with the invention of the internet. From the basic communication system of the early internet to the advanced, widespread web universe that supports revolutionary technologies such as social media, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality, the evolution of the internet has made sweeping changes to the way people communicate—and much, much more.
Not only have communication devices been changed how we interact, new devices such as air conditioning, the vacuum cleaner, the microwave, and laundry machines have changed how we perform household work. This has also allowed women to spend less time performing mundane household chores and opened up time to pursue academic and career endeavors.
Alongside more comfortable lifestyles, technological advances have more than doubled the lifespan of the average American. From penicillin to vaccines to MRIs to DNA mapping, modern medicine is far more advanced than that of the early 1900s.
Innovation followed the Great War in other areas of society, too. Immediately after the war, art reflected the pain and grief associated with the war—popular art was somber, to reflect the emotions most Americans were feeling. On the other hand, as Americans started to live more carefree lifestyles and experience brighter emotions, American culture evolved with them. Modern art took hold, striking and bold, giving artists more space to experiment and create new, exciting works and giving the average American a chance to really start the conversation about what a piece of art really means.
Literature, too, has changed in a big way since World War I ended. As the average American’s vocabulary and speaking style became more informal, the books they were reading followed suit. This was especially true as other forms of media began to take hold: television, online video services such as YouTube, video games, blogs, etc. As Americans sought out more and more digital content, books needed to find a digital form to keep pace. In 1971, nearly 50 years after the Great War’s ceasefire, the first e-book was published, changing the way Americans would consume information. Even now, literary culture continues to evolve at a swift pace. In fact, libraries have become hubs not just for physical books, but for e-books, computers, tablets, other technology, programming, and even everyday items such as umbrellas and bike locks (often referred to as the Library of Things).
Looking back, it is hard to see how the United States shifted from a place in which people were isolated to a place where everyone has a device in their pocket that can access information, contact others across the world, and do so many more things, all at a moment’s notice. The ways in which the nation has changed since World War I ended are immense and unmistakable. It’s hard to imagine what life would have been like if the Great War had ended just a few years later—or even a few years earlier. But the United States of today would not be the same without the innovations and cultural shifts that have shaped it since the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.