I wrote a thing recently called formative years about how parents form the opinions of their kids largely by accident. This is an elaboration on that theme in a roundabout sort of way as it got me thinking about what life was like when I was busy having my mind accidentally formed. This is because I also came up with a quote which seems to have caught on in certain circles
‘Once upon a time we wanted for little, as we had little idea what we might have wanted for other than what little we had’
You see back in the ‘olden’ days we didn’t have all the wonderful things we now know we must have because advertising and peer pressure tells us so. Let me just point out that I am only in my mid (to late) 40’s so I’m not quite geriatric just yet but things have moved on a pace since I was a young fellow in rural New Zealand.
Everyone has heard someone of a certain age refer to ‘the good old days’ and expressed fond memories of a simpler time, well some have, think of the poor people in a few years’ time who will have to refer to the 1980’s as ‘the good old days’.
When I say some have expressed fond memories, when my dad died a few years ago my two brothers and I took a trip down memory lane, which is a gravel road in the back blocks of Southern Hawkes Bay, to where we spent our formative years. I had very fond memories of the place but my older brother remarked that he would work long and hard to ensure his kids didn’t have to endure ‘the sort of crap life we had’ or some such statement. This took me aback as I was there too but I quite enjoyed myself and I had to wear his second-hand clothing. Funny how a perspective can be so different on the same life. Still, things were different then and now we have much making our lives easier or something like that. I was just going to do a quick examination of the good old days and modern society and draw a couple of comparisons and observations, for fun. I am going to finish with the one thing that is the definitive ‘it’s better now’ experience.
The ‘olden days were certainly simpler times mostly because we didn’t know anything. I can only talk about what we didn’t know in New Zealand as that’s where I lived; you may have had a much better grasp on current events if you lived abroad, in the world rather than underneath it. For example we knew nothing at all about Africa. We knew about South Africa as they played rugby. All we knew about the rest of Africa, which I believe in those days was called Uganda, was that it had lots of mercenaries’, the French Foreign Legion or Israeli commandos wandering about the place rescuing colonialists or overthrowing tyrants with a taste for flamboyant dress uniforms covered in self-awarded medals.
Now we know that all of Africa seems to be full of starving people periodically massacring each other for being from the wrong tribe or religion.
We knew nothing of most of North Africa other than that it was covered in broken German and allied tanks and most of it was called Egypt where history started. There was the also French Foreign Legion undertaking extraordinarily long marches to spend some time fighting various angry Arabs from a fort in a desert. Now in North Africa it is always springtime and the French Foreign Legion aren’t invited anymore.
All we knew about the Russians was that they wished to rain nuclear weapons on our heads at the first opportunity. We have since learned they were actually saving up money to buy all the soccer clubs and super yachts.
India was somewhere you sat on a colonial veranda drinking tea while some chap waved a large fan over you. Everyone wore a white tunic and baggy shorts. Now we have someone from India telephoning us at our house every day to discuss our television reception, mobile phone signal or how much money we have in our bank accounts.
The Chinese were once inscrutable or was that the Japanese? Now between them they make everything we now know we need because advertising and peer pressure tell us so. They make the technology, that’s what we have now that we didn’t have then you see. Once we had a radiogram, a television set, a fridge freezer and a telephone. Now we have an app on our phones in our pocket that allows us to spend hours drawing comedy stick figures in various states of repose or to make birds angry. We can look up anything anywhere and know everything at the swipe of a finger or the press of a button. My telephone in my pocket plays the tune from ‘the Good, the bad, and the ugly’ when someone calls me. If someone steals our telephone we can actually almost do that thing from the mission impossible and make it self-erase, unfortunately we can’t yet make it catch on fire. I think that would be a great extra feature.
So yes, back in the olden days we had a few simple bits of kit that took no great effort to learn how to work. Then Technology was invented in the 1980’s and 1990’s but no-one knew how to work any of it. Remember trying to program a video recorder and how to get it to talk to your television? There was this awful period when everything was far too complicated, now we can just press ‘auto set up’. Then we hope the people who made the technology don’t actually wish to take everything we have in our computers back to some secret cave to quietly look through our doings and sell our contact details someone in Nigeria who wants to give us half of his $30 million inheritance.
There is a phrase often used that the young today don’t know they are alive, I doubt that is true and certainly if they themselves don’t know, everyone else in the world does as they have a Facebook and a Twitter, some Tumblr’s, a Flickr or two, possibly a Spotify, certainly a Skype and some even still have an old-fashioned MySpace for ‘retro’ reasons.
What they also have is car insurance premiums that cost more than a house used to. This is because now cars can travel very fast and if you drive swiftly past a pedestrian on a rainy day and splash their clothing or ruffle their hair they will be immediately contacted by a legion of Lawyers offering to help them sue for the trauma. Anyone who witnessed the clothes splashing or hair ruffling will also be offered counselling by the insurance company. This is before they even actually crash into anyone when the cost of putting everyone’s broken car and limbs right increases tenfold.
Somehow the accidents these days are so much more expensive which is actually incredible given everyone has an airbag, Ncap safety ratings, seatbelts, and ABS. When you crashed your car in the old days there was a fireball of leaded petrol and asbestos brake pads, but no-one was suing for compensation for the trauma as well as the accident. I guess this was because everybody had died in the accident including those nearby who caught cancer from the lead and asbestos. The good old days alright.
In the olden days if you wished to demonstrate the consequences of your children’s decisions or actions or dissuade them from a particular activity, you were allowed to thrash them with some leather accessories, cooking utensils, some robust footwear, or just your bare hands. Now though you must enforce your will by denying them access to the internet or making them sit on a step on the stairs for a period of time, which just doesn’t seem to carry the same sort of dread. As a consequence the world is now full of naughty children which aren’t allowed to be described as such so a new disease called ADHD had to be invented and it appears 75% of all children are afflicted with it, which is a shame.
So I think all things being equal, while the olden days were indeed simpler, no-one really enjoyed being thrashed all the time and I like the fact that my telephone plays the theme from the good, the bad and the ugly in my pocket when somebody calls me and I look forward to the day I can self-destruct my phone if someone pinches it. I did say though I would leave you with the definitive reason why now is better than the olden days. There is one thing above all which sets us apart from the days of yore.
There was something being done to children and adults alike until quite recently that if it was done now in a Syrian torture chamber it would be described as cruel and inhuman treatment probably earning the protagonist a trip to the war crimes tribunal upon being caught administering it.
If someone in society was caught doing this now to a member of the public they would be put in prison for the rest of time. Something so horrific it has forever tarnished an entire branch of the medical profession and embedded itself into our very psyche. Something passed down through generations never spoken of or even whispered without an involuntary shudder.
Dental work with a pedal powered dentist’s drill.
Oh yes, now is better than then if only for that reason.
Was that the phone?