Saturday, January 18, 2020

Fondly Missed

It's pretty common to see articles mocking Millennials these days. "Want to confuse a Millennial? Put her in a room with a rotary phone, a cassette tape and deck, and an analog clock. Leave directions to read and operate these things in cursive."

Condescending, the way every generation is about the one coming up behind them. And unutterably stupid. Millennials have grown up with the sum of human knowledge accessible in the palms of their hands, and their critical thinking skills are generally much higher than they're ever given credit for. Do you really think that given this and a roomful of outdated tech, they wouldn't be able to figure out that tech? I think they'd have little or no trouble, myself.
What they would think about that tech, though, is something altogether different, I suspect. I bet they would find it limiting to the point of farce. You mean this "cassette" only has room for twelve songs? AND it needs a bulky playback machine to boot?

It sounds blasphemous in this age when Progress is venerated as a god...but I miss some of the old tech and ways of doing things. Here's a further heresy: some of what's come along to replace it isn't necessarily an improvement.

Eva brought up a good example the other night: appointment television.

Okay, yes, I get the appeal of binge-watching shows for some people. Not me, I can't watch more than two or three episodes of anything in succession without wanting something different, but some people. And of course nobody wants to go back to the days when the TV schedule dictated yours.

Or do we?

I have heard many people, in my houses and others, lament that it takes longer these days to decide what to watch then the actual program lasts. I sure didn't have that problem growing up. Up until a blink ago, we all had our shows, and we all knew their air time and network. Star Trek: The Next Generation was an occasion, something to look forward to every week. So was Joan of Arcadia. For Eva, the biggest can't-miss show was Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. For Kathy it was also ST:TNG followed by The X-Files and Lost.

We live in a tine of instant gratification. I do think, sometimes, that I'm more grateful for the things that actually require effort. 

I don't miss cassette tapes, or CDs for that matter. Both media are bulky and fragile (those of us of a certain age can recall getting the cassette spool hopelessly tangled, and -- like the constipated mathematician -- having to work it out with a pencil). I have an Idagio subscription for classical and a Spotify subscription for everything else, and together they are money very well spent.

But there's one thing about cassettes that I'm a little nostalgic about: mixtapes.

Today, you can create the equivalent of a mixtape in about three minutes flat. Here you go, darling, this is our Spotify playlist. It's not exactly romantic, there, nestled up against all the other Spotify playlists you've got going, but it did take three minutes to create. But back in the day? A mixtape was a labour of love. You'd wait and wait and wait for THAT SONG to come on the radio -- Casey Kasem's American Top Forty was your best bet if it was a recent hit. You'd hit play and record, and then Casey would say something over the opening notes and shit, now we have to try again. It was a serious pain in the ass to make these things, and the object of your affection knew it. A Spotify playlist. even one with the same super-meaningful songs...just isn't the same as a clunky old cassette I invested hours of my life into for you.

Nobody would ever want to give up their smartphone and go back to the days of landlines, right? That "always connected" ethos is hard to resist, for sure. But there were advantages to the old phone mounted on the wall. The sound quality was worlds better, especially in my house where two bars is one more than we usually see. I have my own collection of pet peeves about texting that I've bothered you with too many times, so I won't launch into that. There is something to be said, however, for the vicious satisfaction you get in slamming down a receiver when somebody pisses you off on the other end of the line. Stabbing the hang up icon on your screen doesn't even remotely compare. Or if you didn't want to hang up on somebody but instead express what a dolt they were being, you could do what a friend of mine used to do, which is take the receiver, knock it hard against the table a few times and say "is this thing on?" Try that with your Galaxy S78 and it'll shatter, sure as shit, and you'll be out $42,000.
Okay, I can't help it. I'd rather hear your voice. There's not a whole lot of "you" in a pile of pixels, and the chances I will misunderstand you, given the total absence of tone, is far too high in text. Also, there isn't a person alive who can text as fast as they can talk.

Want another advantage the old stuff has over the new? Durability. Your grandma's rotary phone, which worked in 1965, probably still works. Try that with an iPhone or a Galaxy.

I may be alone in that I miss store flyers. Like everything else, there are apps for that now. (There's a nap to try if you're tired, too. Don't worry, be appy.) But I vastly prefer leafing through the paper copies of flyers. They're bigger, they don't require using data or your battery, and it's not as if they aren't recyclable.

I hope analog clocks never go the way of civilized personal interaction on the internet. I love clocks, the more unique the better. And I don't for the life of me get what's so hard about telling time on one: do you know your multiplication table for the number five up to five by twelve?  Then you can read an analog clock.

I DON'T miss cursive writing. I joked back in third grade, when my mother was forcing me to write out page after page of capital Ks, that it must be called cursive because you curse when you're trying to learn it. I have heard all the arguments, and even agree tentatively with cursive being necessary to read historical documents. As for fine motor skills,. I'm pretty sure kids get those these days from video games. And I have long shared Spider Robinson's puzzlement that we force our young to learn not one, not two, but FOUR alphabets. That's needlessly complex.

I kind of miss wall calendars. Not enough to get one. But there was room to write all kinds of things on any given day, and you got a little joy injection every time the month changed and you beheld a new picture. Google Calendar is convenient, but bland in comparison.

And that's really how I feel about so much of what's new. It's convenient, sometimes so convenient that you can't imagine how you lived without it...but it's also missing a certain I don't know what. Personal flair? That's part of it. Simplicity can be a virtue, too.

Progress. Sometimes I'm not sure it really is. 

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