How would you explain 21st century technology to the French hippie girls in Oaxaca?

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

In 2020,  The Americas Revealed looked back in time with two major series.  Much of the year, was spent analyzing my experiences and color slides from the first Barrett Fellowship granted by Georgia Tech in 1970.  It was an extraordinary journey through most of the archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala and British Honduras (now Belize).  Then, a letter from a “ghost in the past” triggered my repressed memories of the early 1990s.   This was a human-interest story that explained why I suddenly jumped from a very successful historic preservation and urban design practice in Northern Virginia to living in a townhouse next to Etowah Mounds! 

During 2021,  I am first using contemporary technology to analyze the sites in the southern tip of Mexico.  Our understanding of the Olmec, Maya and Gulf Coast civilizations has changed radically since 1970.  State of the art technology will be used to bring alive long forgotten town sites in the Southeastern United States.  

The premier date of this History Channel series has not been set yet, but sometime later in 2121 you will be amazed by the LIDAR images of a newly discovered Native American town site in the Northeast Georgia Mountains.  It was built by a people, whose ancestors founded the Olmec Civilization and then in later centuries, were part of the Maya civilization.   They were driven out of Mexico either by the Aztecs or some of their Nahua relatives.

One thing that I never realized until I looked back in time, was that all three of the lost loves of my life were FRENCH!   Alicia’s parents were born in France.  They were Sephardic Jews, who converted to Catholicism in order to escape the NAZI’s and immigrate to Mexico.  While I was working in Sweden, Alicia was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris.  Yvette,  my tent-mate in Oaxaca was a French Protestant conehead, architecture student from mountains of southeastern France.  Vivi grew up in Paris and was a graduate of the Sorbonne.   Had the internet existed in 1971 and 1993,  I would have never lost contact with any of these lovely ladies.

When I was camping with the French hippie gals in Oaxaca during August 1970, there were no such things as the internet, email, cellular phones, personal computers, consumer FAX machines, debit cards, universally available credit cards, ATM bank machines, digital cameras,  Smart phones, text messaging, laptop computers, Google maps, dating websites, computer software, online shopping or cable channels.  Turner Broadcasting would be the first in 1977.  

There were very few female or non-white politicians, CEO’s, architects, engineers, archaeologists or law enforcement officers.   Yvette was a rarity, even in Europe.  Most of her classmates would not date her because she was a Protestant AND going into a profession that was supposed to be reserved for men.

In 1970, in the United States, you could only install phones into a Bell subsidiary line that were rented from that phone company and manufactured by Western Electric, another Bell subsidiary.  The situation did not begin to change until 1977, when the Carter Administration began breaking up the monopolies. The first change was that one could install an answering machine, made by another company . . . but that would not be until 1977.

So how would you explain these headlines to the seven French hippie girls and their Gringo bodyguard at Monte Alban, Oaxaca?

1. SanDisk’s prototype 4TB USB flash drive is the biggest one ever!

What is a SanDisk? What is a USB?  What is a flash drive?  These are all 21st century words.

It is highly unlikely that there was ONE terabyte of computer data storage capacity in the entire United States in 1970.  Actually,  virtually no one, but an recent engineering college graduate, would have even known what a byte was.

2. Newly discovered Indian mound is easily visible on Google Maps.

What is a Google?   Most of the time in Mexico, I didn’t have a clue where I was because the available maps in Mexico were of such low resolution.  At best, they were equivalent to a state highway map.  That is why readers saw so many color slides made from the tops of mountains. I climbed them to get oriented. Oh and nowadays, we say Native American mound.

3.  Trump says Mexico will pay for the Wall.

What is a Trump?  What wall?   Seriously, the first Mexican restaurant that I ever seen or ate in, was in Colonia Coyacan, Mexico City!  In 1970 most Southerners had never even seen a Mexican in person.  Now Georgia alone has over one million Latin American residents. 

4. Eastman Kodak declares bankruptcy!

That’s the only brand of film sold in most stores.  So how in heck am I going to take photos in Mexico, if I run out of film for my camera?

5. Militia alliance in Georgia signals new phase for extremist paramilitaries.

This must be a newspaper article from the early 1860s.

6.  Missing campers last posted their photos on Facebook

What does fence posts have to do with photographs?  What is a Facebook?

7.  Plenty of Fishes becomes largest dating site.

Why would so many couples want to go to a fishing pond?

8. Birthers demand impeachment of President Obama.

What is a birther?  How could anybody with a weird name like Obama be elected president?

9.  Georgia QAnon congresswoman supports assassination of House Speaker.

What is a QAnon? Isn’t that an extraterrestrial species from Star Trek? Whoever heard of a female in Congress?   Why would anyone in Congress want to assassinate the Speaker of the House? 

10.  Trump announces banning of TikTok.

What is a Trump?  Why is bad for clocks to tick?

11.  Trump banned from Twitter for life.

What is a Trump?  Why would someone not be allowed to tweet like a bird?

12.  FBI identifying Capitol rioters on social media.

Who in their right mind would riot in the National Capitol?  What is the difference between social media and anti-social media?

13.  Evangelist says that presidential election was delusion master-minded by Satan.

Hm-m-m,  most people agree that Richard Nixon’s election really happened in 1968.

14.  Apple releases new synthesizer APP for I-phone.

This sentence would be totally incomprehensible to anyone in 1970.   The Moog Synthesizer was invented in 1967 and became known among the youth of the USA from the 1968 hit record, “Switched on Bach.”   However, the Apple I computer did not exist until 1977.  APP and I-phone are 21st century words. The use of “release” as a verb associated with the sales of computer software and hardware began in the late 1990s.   

15.  Jimmy Carter now longest-lived president.

Are you talking about that hick peanut farmer, who is running for Georgia’s governor right now? You are crazy, man.  We are hoping that that Hal Suit, the progressive Republican candidate, will get enough votes in the Atlanta area to beat Carter or former Governor Sanders. 

That’s right.  Up until the inauguration of Jimmy Carter, Republicans were the Libruls and Progressives in Georgia politics and the Democrats were the Conservatives and Segregationists.  Carter pretended to be a conservative in order to win the election then revealed his true social progressive-fiscal conservative colors in his inauguration speech. Ironically,  I voted for Suit, but ended up being one of Jimmy’s first interns.

16.  Yvette, I Googled  “architecture school – Lyon” and got the website for “École d’architecture de Lyon.” Is that your school’s website?

The words Googled and website did not exist in 1970.

17. Hey Yvette,  text me when you get to the Mexico City Airport.

Huh-h?  There were no cellular phones or text messaging in 1970.

18. New Artlantis software brings architectural virtual reality to a new level of life.

Huh?  Artlantis did not exist in 1970. Abvent, SA formed in 1985 and produced its first virtual reality software for historic preservation architects (Artlantis) in 2000.  Software and virtual reality were not words in 1970.

19.  Hey Vivi!  My new AOL screen name and instant messenger is  I am emailing your winery in Champagne-Argonne from the county library, because I never could get an answer from your computer in Paris.  I am stuck at my parents’ house near Atlanta. They do not have a computer and mine is in Virginia. 

The Anti-Wife encouraged me to visit them at Easter then cleaned out our bank accounts and ran our credit cards to the limit.  She also cancelled my new cellular phone service. All of my personal belongings are up in Virginia.  I ran into Susan Karlson last week.  She is now living near my parents, but doing something top-secret.  She contacted a friend at Interpol to try to find you.  However, your neighbors said that you moved away about three weeks ago and they didn’t know where you went. Where are you?   My parent’s telephone number is 706-846-2347.

I believe that Vivi invented the first non-military instant message system in 1991, but it was in my office in Virginia.   Personal computers existed, but America On Line, the internet, email, plus the word, “screen name” and  “Instant Messenger” did not exist in 1993.  Thus, for three decades,  Vivi did not know what had happened to me  . . . eventually assuming that I was dead.

20.  Dear NASA:  I have found many ancient stone structures on the top of Cerro Gordo Mountain, north of Teotihuacan, Mexico.  Mexican archaeologists seem to know nothing about them.  Do you have satellite photographs or LANDSTAT imagery of this mountain? 

I actually did write such a letter to NASA in the autumn of 1970.  They did have satellite imagery of the mountain, but it was not nearly the resolution that one now sees on Google Maps. The US Department of Defense refused to allow me to obtain a negative or color transparency.  Of course, there was no such thing as digital map files back then. I would have to wait until 2018, when Google installed high resolution satellite imagery of Mexico on their mapping website.

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