Boomers and the Internal Combustion Engine

Last week, federal regulations banning the retail sale of incandescent light bulbs went into effect (See: Will Boomers Say “Shine On Brightly?” from a decade ago). This phase-out is one of many that have happened in the life of boomers. Whether through shifts in consumer preferences, a cooperative effort of government regulation and public companies, or technological advancements, this is not a rare occurrence in our lives.

Boomers’ grandparents, or in many cases, the parents of boomers, were around when the horse and carriage was being replaced by automobiles powered by internal combustion engines. It was a momentous change that took time, but by the end of the 1930s, most Americans had switched their major source of transportation to vehicles powered by an internal combustion engine (ICE).

The first successful commercial internal combustion engine appeared in 1860, though experiments were conducted on gas-powered engines decades before that date. By the end of WWII and the beginning of the Boomer Generation, the ICE was as commonplace as anything in American culture. As boomers became driving-age teenagers, the ICE played an important role in teenage mobility, and more so for the “motorheads,” mostly male, who customized the speed-demon machines of the 1960s, as their fathers had done creating hot rods, after the War and into the 1950s.

At this particular time in history, however, the viability of the ICE is being weighed against its required use of fossil fuels and the environmental harm it has caused for decades. Like light bulb manufacturers over the past decade, auto companies around the globe are rethinking and retooling to gear up for a future without the ICE. Audi was the first company to announce that no new development would be done on ICE after 2021. Both Ford and Stellantis (the current name of company resulting from the merger between Fiat and Chrysler) have announced their target date of 2030 for eliminating all sales of gas-powered passenger vehicles in Europe. In the U.S., General Motors has announced 2035 as their target date to eliminate the ICE from their vehicles. California has become the first to mandate that all new cars and trucks sold in the state be zero-emission vehicles beginning in 2035. Whether these targets are achievable remain to be seen, but as far as the ICE is concerned, its days appear to be numbered.

The timing of this shift away from ICE to something else, which right now leans heavily toward electric engines powered by batteries, is of great interest to Mister Boomer simply because it may happen within our lifetime. Boomer grandparents and parents witnessed a series of major shifts in all aspects of their lives, and now boomers can assess what has happened within their lifetimes.

Cars were a vital part of Mister Boomer’s early years. In his heyday, Mister B could perform a tune-up, replace spark plugs and do other regular maintenance on the ICE in his cars as needed. It was practically a rite of passage in his area, but also more economical to do it oneself. These days it has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for the average person to perform maintenance on their own engines due to the proliferation of chip technology added to the processes. Though these technological improvements have made for a more efficient ICE, it has already changed the way boomers looked at car maintenance.

What modern marvels are boomers still destined to witness? Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, is credited with writing that the only thing constant in life is change. He went on to compare change to stepping into a river; you’ll never step into the same water twice.

Do you have an emotional attachment to the internal combustion engine, boomers?

Boomers Had That Old-Time Religion

On a recent trip to the supermarket, Mister Boomer noticed a neighborhood church had their services listed on a sign out front. This, of course, is hardly unusual. What struck Mister B was that there was only one service listed for Sunday. It stood in stark contrast to what Mister B had grown up with, where his family’s church had three services scheduled on each Sunday alone. The difference between then and now is one of cultural demographics and a shift in philosophical thinking.

In the prime boomer era between the 1950s and 1970s, at least 90 percent of the U.S. population listed themselves as belonging to a particular religion, and Christian was the overwhelming preference. Today, according to Pew Research, that number has dropped to 63 percent. Though boomers have held their religious affiliation for a longer period of time than other generations, there was still an approximate 30 percent shift in boomer religious affiliation in the past 40 years. Pertinent to our topic today, is the precipitous rise in the number of people who wish to remain religiously unaffiliated. In the 1970s, approximately five percent of the population listed no religious affiliation; today that number has risen to nearly 30 percent. However, that same survey indicates that approximately 65 percent of older Americans (i.e., boomers) are more likely to have retained the religious affiliation of their youth. Though there has been a drop in boomer-age people professing a religious preference, the larger gap exists in the generations that followed the boomers.

Social scientists, theologians and philosophers are all attempting to understand the dramatic shifts that are reshaping the religion landscape that began in the boomer era and continues to the present. Many possible theories have emerged, from boomers raising their children with more openness to other religions or non-affiliated preferences due to monumental changes in major religious thought in the 1960s (the influence of a “hippie” philosophy, man?), to a self-inflicted push away from organized religion brought about by numerous scandals across multiple denominations. Others point to the questions that are being asked by government census takers and pollsters themselves: certainly it is now much more socially acceptable to list oneself as religiously unaffiliated than it was in, say, the 1970s. Others mention how boomers moved to various places across the U.S. for employment, no longer living in the same area or even the same state as their families. Moving from one part of the country to another was facilitated by the building of the interstate highway system and popularization of air travel. Dozens of other explanations have been proffered.

Mister Boomer’s family was, in retrospect, a tad more “religious” than the people in his neighborhood. His family went to services weekly, and religious holidays and observances were practiced in the home. Mister B and his siblings all attended parochial schools. Yet Mister Boomer recalls that neither of his grandfathers attended services regularly, though his grandmothers did.

By the time Mister Boomer was in high school, Brother Boomer had already stopped attending weekly services, paving the way for Mister B to follow suit. Whether it was the times, or personal family thinking, the boys were not forced or coerced in any way to return to attending services. In later years, his father mentioned that they felt it important for their children to make their own decisions about religion, though they clearly would have preferred the boomer brothers chose a different path. Was this a prevailing thought for boomer families, or was Mister B’s family on the cusp of the shift in the wind?

In Mister Boomer’s experience, the war in Vietnam had a tremendous influence on how the males around him felt about organized religion. The old saying goes there are no atheists in fox holes, yet young men grappling with questions of morality as conscription into the military loomed, were not necessarily finding solace in the religions of their upbringing.

How about you, boomers? Does your family’s trajectory mimic the national trend toward the unaffiliated, or have you retained the religion of your youth? How are your children and grandchildren thinking about religious affiliation?

An additional note from Mister Boomer: This blog in general is meant for entertainment purposes to wonder at the life and times of the boomer generation. Mister B is an observer on the road, and is in no way stating one religion or philosophy is better than another.