When Henry Miller (1891-1980) returned from France to America in 1939, he was quick to identify air conditioning as both a metaphor and a real cause of a lamentable degradation of life. His first writing upon his return, published as “The Air Conditioned Nightmare” in 1945, was based on his road trip across America in 1939.
Looking at this book from the 21st century, it is surprising to read his tirades against Americans’ submission to technology. We have come to think of the 1930s as an economically depressed time when industry regressed and people were forced back to agrarian self-reliance. The contemporary perception is that the reaction to the excesses of materialism didn’t become apparent until the 1960s when baby boomers rebelled against the affluence and suburban culture of the 1950s.
But in every crisis there is transformation, and Miller was able to notice the changes going on in spite of the Depression. In the same way that iPhones became an embedded item in our economy regardless of the crash of 2008, there were similar changes in the 1930s.