Thursday, June 20, 2013

Those Were the Days . . . Weren’t They?

As people age, we occasionally indulge in reminiscing about “the good ole days.” I write another blog ( reflecting on my younger days. But you don’t need to be compiling personal memoirs to recognize that although days gone by weren’t necessarily better, they definitely were different.

How different? That’s obvious when you start talking about something from your past and youthful listeners give you puzzled looks, as if you’ve just arrived from another planet.

The good old days? When TVs had
rabbit ears and no remote?
For example, consider the TV remote, one of mankind’s favorite tools. When I was a boy, remote control hadn’t been invented. (What? A world without remotes?) To change the channel – all three back then! – you had to physically arise from your seat, walk to the TV, and turn the dial. We risked sprained wrists, but it had to be done!

The TV also had a tuner, used to sharpen the black-and-white image; “rabbit ears” to snatch the broadcast transmission right out of the air; and an assortment of mysterious-looking tubes in the back that periodically burned out and needed to be changed.

Recently a friend wrote about Kodak “Brownie” cameras. I had one, a small black box with a simple lens that permitted light to enter while you depressed the shutter button. Inside the camera, film unrolled like a scroll. In answer to the question, “Get any good pictures?” most amateur photographers – if they were honest – would answer, “Probably not.”

But in comparing the seemingly good old days with today, some of the most striking differences involve the telephone. Nearly everyone, regardless of demographic or economic status, has a cell phone. As a result, pay phones have virtually disappeared. Not long ago a friend lamented hunting 30 minutes in his hometown to find one.

Everywhere in the world,
pay phones and phone
booths are vanishing.
Once commonly seen on street corners, shopping malls and airports, pay phones are rarely seen because they’re not needed. In fact, I’ve heard people admit seeing someone in a phone booth makes them suspect a sinister, nefarious plot being hatched. Why else would someone want to make a call with the anonymity of a pay phone?

The point is, like it or not, things change. Inventors and innovators always search for better ways of doing things. At the same time, while methodologies may change, for the most part the things we do don’t. As the saying goes, “Form follows function,” and while forms are continually in flux, functions – things that need to be done – remain fairly constant.

When I began my career as a journalist, I used a manual typewriter. Today I used a remote keyboard linked electronically to my computer, but still do the same kind of work – only easier and more efficiently.

Old, rotary dial telephones have become relics, replaced by cell phones, texting, email and social media, but in the end we’re still just trying to communicate with someone.

King Solomon of Israel observed, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10).

Through the centuries, life has been pretty basic – doing the same things, but striving to do them better, more effectively, differently. Clothing has changed dramatically, even shockingly through the centuries, but it’s always been about covering and protecting. Whether it’s camels, horses or cars, they’re all for the same purpose – getting from point A to point B. And in its countless forms, housing has always been about shelter and security.

So if Solomon was right, there truly is nothing totally new under the sun, what are we to do? Is life nothing more than a rat race that no one wins? He even stated, ”Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).

But the sage monarch finished with this upbeat perspective: "Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). This, too, is not new. It’s as old as the “olden days.” But, as Solomon observed, it gives life context, purpose and significance. And hope.

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