Gud Auld Days?

By Kit Hayden | Oct 20, 2012
Family life

Newcastle — Many of us have a fondness for the old days.  Is this selective memory?  Certainly some things seemed better then.  If you’re as old as I am you can remember purchasing twenty cent/gallon petrol or a pack of camels for a quarter.  There wasn’t any traffic then, but, of course, there was the inconvenience of a flat tire every time you drove the car.

Last weekend I visited my younger son in North Carolina.  About time; shamefully it has been 2.2 years since I saw him or his family.  Would that hiatus have happened in the old days?  Probably not.  There were fewer distractions then.

My son has two sons, ages 8 and 14.  After observing them I am able to compare their lives with my sons' lives at the same age in the seventies and eighties and even my own life back in the forties and fifties.  The differences are huge.  Let me try and sort things out.  Was it better back then?

All of us have been privileged to grow up with war.  All war is bad, but some are badder than others.  I experienced The Last Great Conflict.  This was an OK war for a number of reasons.  The citizenry was totally behind it.  The weaponry was fairly simple and understandable, at least until the end.  Men fought, not machines.  Kids emulated their GI heroes.  It was ghastly, but in some sense romantic.  My sons grew up with Vietnam.  That was a horrible war.  Many Americans hated it.  It destroyed Presidents.  We had to sneak away, defeated.  I am amazed that when I visited that country a few years ago the people were friendly and kind.  They should have spit in my face.  Now my grandsons are blessed with Iraq and Afghanistan.  Say no more and mark up one for the good old days.

The gender roles have dramatically changed.  Maybe it started with Rosie the Riveter.  The distaff has evolved through the women’s movement (when my sons were young) to where the male is now subordinate.  This is not to say that mothers have become less dedicated to their offspring, at least in the formative years.  Quite the contrary, the helicopter parent is a recent phenomenon.  I was fobbed off on a nanny, my grandsons’ parents whirr above them.  Many more women now have careers.  Formerly these were taken up after the kiddies were grown.  Not so much now as Daddy evolves as a nurturer.  Children are postponed as careers are pursued.  No more Ozzie and Harriet.  The trend was inevitable as women proved themselves the more capable.   Better now than then?  I think it’s a toss-up.

The engine which changes our lives at an ever accelerating pace is technology.  I grew up with the radio and was older than my grandsons before the boob tube made it into the house, draining three channels of information from an antenna on the roof . We used a telephone (rotary), but long-distance calling was extremely expensive and rather unreliable.  We also had the record player for entertainment, 78’s and new-fangled long play records.  Things had moved along by my sons’ youth.  They enjoyed cordless phones, tape and later CD players, color television with expanded channels and even the VCR.  Computers were just starting to emerge.  My children used these new tools, but they weren’t consumed by them. That all happened later.  My grandsons’ generation, Good Lord!

I found the activity at my son’s house last weekend bewildering.  The TV mounted on the wall, an inch thick and as wide as the driveway, was always on, apparently to provide white noise.  The kids curled up with the iPod Touch at home and on the road as they were ferried to activities.  The parents, necessarily separated by these activities, were in constant communication by cell, voice and text.  I came down one morning to see Ian preparing breakfast (I always did that, my father never did).  He was holding his smartphone.  He told me Nicole was texting him-from upstairs.

I admit that I have reaped benefit from advances in technology.  I may still use any telephone grudgingly and I write letters with paper and pen.  But I also write email and use the internet.  I even have a WW II iPod Nano (8 GB). Yet I am ambivalent about whether my, or our, situation has improved over the years, principally because I feel there’s confusion out there now.  We are out-of-control, economically, psychologically and socially.  There’s far too much communication-too many opinions-too many bloggers!  Of course, you don’t have to play the game, but we are herd animals.

I haven’t mentioned such institutions as marriage, education, or religion.  Our progress there, or lack of it, is too obvious.  Are you going to vote for the next Grand Wazier?  I am.  I’ll tick off Gary Johnson, and I guess that’s a vote for the old days.

Comments (1)
Posted by: M. A. Mower | Oct 23, 2012 08:41

You're right about there being too much communication.  What's the first thing that most people do when they come to the office?  They delete emails they don't want.  I'm barraged with mail from charities all over the U.S. simply because I made one donation.  I still don't have a cell phone.  I admit it would be nice to have in emergencies but it's just another expense.  Even if I did have one, I wouldn't be among those who can't walk down the street without having one up to my ear.  Do we really need to make ourselves available 24 hours a day?  We didn't have to worry about remembering passwords in the old days.  I'm constantly emailing companies to get a password when I've forgotten my old one.  I write them down but I don't looking through hundreds of pieces of paper to find them.  In some ways, technology robs us of our time because we have more things to keep track of.  I've noticed that when people aren't talking on a cell phone, they're sitting quietly looking through their messages--oblivious to what's going on around them.  Even in the workplace, we spend time trying to remember where we've saved a document (under what name) or trying to find an old email to retrieve information for something or other.  We have much more to keep track of these days.  If we're not sending emails, we're constantly checking throughout the day to see if we have new emails.  If you belong to any discussion forums, it's extremely distracting looking for every reply, even moreso when you choose to get a notification by email every time someone responds to a forum topic.  Of course, it's more of a problem when you're in an office and the computer is right in front of you.  So our eyes and our minds are constantly darting here and there--checking email, cell phone messages--one distraction after another.  We have so many gadgets today.  It gives new meaning to the term excess baggage.  We have so much more to carry.  Instead of just carrying a purse when we leave work, you'll often see someone routinely pulling a laptop behind them on a carrying cart.  They'll often be doing this while talking on a cell phone in the other hand.  I'm not sure if all the technology is making our lives that much simpler.  I think more people are burdened with debt in order to own everything that came out of all this advanced technology.  There's no end to it.  As soon as they buy one thing, it's already outdated and they think they've just got to have whatever someone has claimed is better.  You're right, Kit.  You mentioned that your own children used these new tools but they weren't consumed by them.  We are consumed by them now and it doesn't look like it's going to get better.  We're enslaved by them.  There is a real problem with overweight children and teenagers.  Perhaps it's because they're spending less time participating in activities outdoors.  They're spending too much time in front of the computer, listening to music, watching movies, talking on cell phones, as well as overeating and sipping lattes all day long.

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