Tired of hearing old people pine for the good old days; frustrated really, from sensing that I have somehow missed the boat, I decided to ask my eighty-seven year old father and his wife what they meant.
Aside from the predictable nostalgia for their carefree days of childhood, one answer topped the list:
SIMPLICITY: The good old days of civility, tight-knit communities, only 3-TV channels and 2-cylinder cars, the 30-minute newscast, rotary phones, human operators, physical maps, doctor house calls, limited choices of mates and breakfast cereal, little regulation and much self-reliance and self-responsibility.
Attempting to make our lives more convenient, free-up time, and expand our choices, it seemed from their leading answer and clarifying definitions that us “young ones” have made matters worse by transforming our world into a kind of giant, impersonal Rube Goldberg contraption, performing simple tasks (calling a friend, getting from point A-to-B, remedying a cold, choosing a partner or cereal) in convoluted, impersonal, and dizzying ways, often riddled with frustrating redundancies, and, in many cases (dating, entertainment), with so much to choose from, we end up tied up in a knot, unable to choose.
I had to admit they had a point.
But what about all the free time we’ve gained thanks to our technological advances?
If that is so, why are most of you, “young ones,” so overwhelmed, harried, stressed and burnt out? Why, for instance, has the number of vacation days taken by the average American worker declined from twenty to sixteen in the last forty years? And if, in fact, you’ve gained free time through all your techno wizardry, it appears it’s been claimed by new and meaningless distractions…a tossing welter of irrelevance.
Ok…but! I pressed on, in valiant defense of our times…technology helps bring families, friends, and communities closer together.
(Phlegmy scoffs followed by huge eye rolls behind thick, smudged eyeglasses held together with duct tape).
Ok, not that then. But what about regulation? You can’t deny it helps curb abuse and blatant irresponsibility from others.
Aha…but the excess to which regulation has been taken has come at the steep price of self-reliance and self-responsibility…the loss of agency.
I can have a meal or book delivered in less time than it takes you to rinse your octogenarian dentures!
And you’ll eat your meal and read your book – if at all – in less time, and soon forget what you ate and most of what you read while suffering from heartburn.
I never get lost thanks to Google Maps!
Some of the most memorable adventures in our lives have occurred precisely because we got lost.
We have so much to choose from now.
And you never settle for anything.
We have gut-cleansing Kombucha, Mushroom Coffee, and Colored Toast! I bet you never had that in the “good-old-days,” huh? (mocking voice…finger doing air quotes).
By then, I felt like Charlie Chaplin in ‘Modern Times,’ struggling to repair the Giant Machine.
It does feel that our world is evolving, not from simplicity to complexity, but to chaos, or entropy.
As explained by James Clear, entropy is the natural tendency of things to lose order. Sand castles get washed away. Weeds overtake gardens. Ancient ruins crumble. Cars begin to rust. People gradually age. The inevitable trend is for things to become less organized and more so over time. This is known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, one of the fundamental laws of our universe.
I decided to pose the same question to someone a bit ‘younger,’ my sixty-year-old brother:
“When you hear the phrase ‘Good Old Days,’ what comes immediately to mind?”
Before I reveal his answer, let me say that my brother’s nickname is ‘Turtle,’ not only because of his weathered countenance, but, especially, for his calm and plodding approach to life.
Here’s what he said after ruminating for a long time while sipping his signature Crown Royal whisky and puffing a fat cigar:
“Hmm…the good old days…
I’d say right now, this moment!
Ask me tomorrow and I’ll say the same thing.”
When in doubt, always ask a turtle.
My brother’s simple wisdom immediately brought to mind one of my favorite poems:
“MY HERO” by Billy Collins
Just as the hare is zipping across the finish line,
the tortoise has stopped once again
by the roadside,
this time to stick out his neck
and nibble a bit of sweet grass,
unlike the previous time
when he was distracted
by a bee humming in the heart of a wildflower.
Faced with the invincible force of entropy, I am starting to sense that a growing number of us are aching for slow beauty to save us from our quick–quick life! as poet Kapka Kassabova said – for that simple, soft fascination I’ve told you about before.
I guess it all boils down to how we spend our days and choose to live our lives.
While we cannot stop our sandcastles from being washed away, we can certainly dial down the chaos in our own private universe.
We have the agency to come between our madly distracted minds and our distractions, to get lost, and nibble on a bit of sweet grass.