We like to think of our own time as especially dynamic, and to imagine that change has never been so rapid. We suffer from "information overload." We worry about moral decline as technological innovation changes our relations to each other.

One hundred years ago, Americans felt much the same way. Especially in the cities, people experienced the turn of the century as a time of dynamic, frightening and exciting change. They celebrated the possibilities of self making, and the man who went from "rags to riches." But this very mobility was worrisome.

It was a crowded world, crowded with people, with ads, with information. So many different people, so many new technologies; new dangers and new possibilities. The news, the ads, the streets were full of it: how could you tell what was valuable, what would last, from trash and fads? Who could you count on?