My grandfather was a real stick-in-the-mud. To him, everything new was worthy of one of his classic frowns. He was always distrusting of anything that signified a veering away from his beloved status quo. Food was always to be prepared with the same recipe. Clothes – aside from his Sunday best – were to be practical and long-lasting. New neighbors would be quickly “harumphed” as an unwelcome addition while he peered at them through the blinds. The old man liked things the way they were and could see no reason to change.
As much as he would have wanted to do so, making time stand still was not one of his talents. Figuratively speaking, my grandfather had to be dragged kicking and screaming from one decade to another. That’s unfortunate because his life was a witness to so many genius innovations. He was already a grown man when the first commercial radio station appeared and well into middle age when television sets began taking over America’s living rooms, and yet he considered both a nuisance that he barely tolerated and certainly didn’t enjoy.
He didn’t live long enough to experience personal computers and cellphones, but I’m sure he would have not been pleased with either.
Looking back, I find it fascinating to think of how much progress occurred during the many years of my grandfather’s life. At the same time, I find it sad that he had so little appreciation for these things.
What’s old is new again
Personally, I’ve found myself turning a bit nostalgic for some of the things of my youth. While I’m hardly the curmudgeon like my grandfather – unlike him, I embrace both technological and social advances – I do crave opportunities to reach back through the years and breath new life into those old memories.
Flipping through the dozens and dozens of channels on my high-definition TV, I’ll often stop on those old black & white comedies and be drawn in to the stories that came from the dirt main streets of Mayberry or the New York brownstone apartment that was not far from the Tropicana.
I also have rediscovered my old vinyl record collection, spending hours listening to the pops and scratches coming from the decidedly low-fi record player that is not much different than the turntable in my bedroom that blasted “Smoke on the Water” for hours and hours. (My father was quick to buy me a good set of headphones, an investment that likely met the approval of the neighbors.)
While these blasts from the past give me some warm feelings, they inevitably trigger some sadness. Not so much for regrets of bygone days, but because of what has become of us in the present.
It’s not hard to ruin a good thing
Like I said, I am quite different from my grandfather. As much as he loathed anything new, I welcome innovation with open arms (and, often to my financial detriment, open wallet). Gimmicks and gadgets are the kinds of things that catch my eye, and I’m easily distracted by the latest shiny object. (I like to say that the only thing about me that’s Old Fashioned is the whiskey cocktail in my glass.) But there’s a price to pay for progress.
Unless you’re a newcomer to this column, you’re very familiar with my feelings about our internet-driven culture. Sure, the convenience of Google is often preferable to sifting through musty editions of archaic encyclopedias. And I’d much rather check the headlines right now instead of being forced to wait for the evening network news. (NOTE: this is the place where the publisher will insist that I put in a good word for the reliable community newspaper, and I’m happy to oblige. After all, nothing beats the combination of investigative reporting and long-form human interest stories that rise up from the printed page.)
Unfortunately, the accessibility of the internet has done more than put instant information at our fingertips. It also gave birth to the dreaded forked-tongue monster that is social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… these and others could have simply been another device to bring us all closer, sharing old photos and cat videos. But just like how a sharp blade can be a useful tool or one that creates destruction, Americans take to their keyboards and manage to fill empty spaces with a little good and a lot of bad.
Sadly, much of social media is overwhelmed with self-appointed social justice warriors, people with unique interpretations of what is and isn’t acceptable, and they spend a lot of time making sure everyone and everything conforms to their standards. What’s even more disturbing is that most of these keyboard jockeys would never have the courage to repeat to your face all the vile comments they happily post online.
Change for the better?
I don’t know why my grandfather was so reluctant to accept change. Perhaps he was confused by it all, so intimidated by forward leaps of progress that his only comfort was found in rejecting it all. But in some ways I can understand how he must have felt.
Progress led to great improvements during my grandfather’s life. In my time, some of the advancements of recent years may have made things worse despite any good intentions of their creators. I guess some of us can’t be trusted to play nice with our toys.
(Originally published in the February 6, 2020 edition of the Morrisons Cove Herald.)