Hominy & Hash
THE COMPLICATIONS OF SIMPLER TIMES
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- There's nothing in my recent memory to match the joy of installing our new screen door. You can't see it, you can't slam it, and, except for trying to walk through it, it's a truly marvelous invention aptly called The Phantom Door.
This isn't about the door, however; it's about reactions to new technology. Wendy wrote that she loved the joy in my message and thought up some of her own recent acquisitions: "I bought a new lawnmower a while back, but that is not as 'cool' as the Phantom Screen."
She also won a Bose "alarm clock" that comes with a little remote control so she can snooze. It's too big for the night stand, she explains, thus the remote. (I grew up winding a Big Ben alarm clock and hope the winding would last until the hour I set - and then I had to put it in a drawer across the room so it wouldn't startle me into ready alert.)
She thought the Bose came close but not still not the Phantom Screen. Her hockey gear bag (yes, her hockey gear bag, it's a whole new world) has wheels on it, but then again, so do suitcases, she admits. Since she can remember growing up without color television, she doesn't take it, or air conditioning, for granted.
Tom says we are not as impressed with innovation as we used to be and he agrees with Wendy about taking things for granted. He says, "Some things are so amazing, it's best not to ask how they work because your head will spin."
After Tom's next words, my life passes before my eyes. I discover it's not only in near-death experiences or when anesthetized in the dentist's chair that this phenomenon takes place. It occurs when you hear something so mind boggling that your brainwaves think they have to start all over - from the beginning.
"I would love to go back to the simpler days before life was bastardized by technology," he said.
In fairness to Tom, I must admit saying the same thing to my mother when I was not much younger than he is now. She enlightened me right away when she spoke about dipping candles, cleaning lamp chimneys, trimming wicks, having kerosene on hand, laundering in washtubs, after you boiled the water on a coal-burning stove. No, no, not for me.
"Once we got electricity," she said, "everything else got simpler."
The first image passing before my eyes was a 1940's night and coming home from the movies with Mama. We stepped into the darkened kitchen. Uh-oh: We were too late. We were walking in water. The ice pan overflowed. All we could do is mop and wring, mop and wring. This was a fairly regular occurrence.
She always said, "Don't touch the light switch, you could get electrocuted. And, don't answer the phone."
She found her way to the gas stove, turned it on, reached for a match and struck it against the burner, igniting the gas just to give us light until we cleaned up.
I don't take my refrigerator for granted. And I blow a kiss to my electric pencil sharpener; I once had to sharpen my yellow, Eagle #2 pencils with a butcher knife (after I sharpened the knife!). There were many advances in that technology from then to now, but none of those were "simpler" than the $10 sharpener on my windowsill.
Having wheels on luggage and gear bags is a good example of an idea whose time has come. That was always a possibility. (Same with women playing hockey, I might add.)
Our children never had to live with soap scum or without detergent. They never had to pour tooth powder in the cup of their hand and dip the brush into it to make it a "tooth paste" for their pearly whites. They always had showers, not merely a bathtub. They've always had high fidelity followed by stereophonic sound.
As Mama said, "once we got electricity, everything else got simpler." Wouldn't you think with all the labor-saving devices, we would have more time for leisure? Doesn't that seem simple? That's where it gets complicated. There are tradeoffs. If we work hard for the latest advance in technology, we usually give up something else in time or money.
I saw the original "Mr. Deeds goes to Town" the other night. I still remember the first time around. Jean Arthur and Gary Cooper played the leads and the story manages to hold up. But, then as now, someone dialed a telephone. "Dialed." Get it? She placed her finger into the appropriate numbers and "dialed" the ... well, the dial. We still say dial but we no longer dial. We punch.
Ms. Arthur played a newspaper woman who typed on an old Remington manual typewriter. In the story line, human nature is the same then as now. the clothes are not outdated, New York City streets look the same, yet the technology employed makes it a period piece.
That time, over 50 years ago, was not simpler. And, although today is busier, it is not really complicated. It's true that it's coming at us faster and faster where things appear to be obsolete before we unpack the box, but Wow! What we have now has been a long time coming. With that vision of then and now that I scanned earlier, I can tell you, now is better.
Don't ask me to trade my word processor with all its bells and whistles for an old manual typewriter and a dictaphone. And, don't ask me to pass by the electric pencil sharpener on my way to get a butcher knife to sharpen my pencils. I wouldn't trade this for anything ... well, perhaps there is one thing. It could almost serve the same purpose and I can still feel my heart tingling.
I was six. It was my first day of school. I was given a dark green pencil box with a snapper to open and close it. When I looked in I saw an eraser, three pencils, and a six-inch ruler. There was a drawer under that layer and in there I found a compass, a protractor, and one red and blue pencil sharpened at each end ... one red, one blue. Amazing. Two-colors in the same pencil shaft. How did they do that?
Nothing came close to that electrifying moment of having something so special - until the Phantom Screen door. However, after some serious reflection, I can now only give the door a close second.