We recently read a wonderful article in The New Yorker, entitled Tribes. It is well worth reading for its subject, coming of age in a San Francisco family. But what fascinated us was this little tidbit:
"'Life style' is a term found almost nowhere in American print before the sixties. Its sunny cousin, 'California life style,' appeared around the same time, as a phrase but, more germanely, as a hope. What set the California life style apart was what Life, in a paean, called 'indoor-outdoor living.' In the traditional Jane Jacobsian city, public life started outside your door. In the postwar West Coast metropolis, you assembled a personal world from diverse local sources and brought it home, to your private grounds. Domestic space emerged as an extension of the public sphere."
We were astounded. The whole concept of lifestyle arrived more or less when we were teenagers? This seemed as unlikely to us as learning that there was a time before people invented zero as a concept, or accepted that a storm was a valid subject for a painting.
So here is yet another thing for which we can take credit, the notion that people can and do make choices as to at least some aspects of their lives. They can live, within the strictures of their means, formally or informally, west or east, intense professions or less intense jobs, married or not, children or not, colorful clothes or drab, art or none. Of course they always could make these choices, but it was harder before travel became easier, and perhaps even more importantly by the sixties people began to understand that there was a vast array of choices available to everyone who was mobile.
Maybe, like "Golden Years," this was an idea born of advertising and marketing. But it was surely an idea that caught on at a time when when people were learning from Timothy Leary that they could, and maybe should, tune in, turn on and drop out. That San Francisco and Woodstock were great places to do exactly that, so long as you were wearing a tie dye shirt and flowers in your hair. That the military industrial complex existed, and that it could be overcome--the Vietnam war was stopped by civilians. That black people and women were the equals of white men, and you could choose a place to live where the community agreed more or less with these propositions.
Now lifestyle is a mantra by which to sell everything--furniture, clothing, travel, books, politics. We all know we have one, and that we could choose to have another. It is good to remember, though, that consciousness of lifestyle is still pretty new, and the ability to choose should be cherished.