Web designer Dan Cederholm asks himself that question over at Simple Bits, provoking a discussion about early-20th-century analogues to Web designing and the like. Does anyone else remember the science-fiction story about a medieval serf who was “strange” because he kept thinking of flying machines and fast-moving objects with wheels, things he couldn’t even begin to describe so that anyone else could understand?

Interestingly, very few commenters mention what their grandparents and great-grandparents actually were doing at that time. Sometimes that makes the retro-extrapolation pretty easy: two of my three great-grandfathers were living in Chicago in 1906–one (pictured) was a former English teacher turned manuscript reader at McClurg’s publishing house, the other was a stenographer/editor/translator of Swedish sermons for the Mission-Friend movement. (The third was a Methodist preacher downstate.)

Try it:

  • Theodore Roosevelt is president (think Clinton’s energy added to Cheney’s arrogance).

  • Mayor Edward F. Dunne is trying to get the City Council to take over the streetcar system.

  • Cars are toys for rich people; the word itself refers to railroad cars.

  • The White Sox beat the Cubs in the World Series.

  • The Chicago Defender and the Industrial Workers of the World are just a year old.

  • Society architect Daniel Burnham is working up a big plan.

  • Jane Addams is managing Hull House, working for the reform of practices not even conservatives would defend today, and writing a book about it.

Where were “you” in 1906?

(Hat tip to kottke.org remaindered links.)