Reflecting on the olden days

We all hear stories that begin with when I was younger…. They are told with so much love, passion, and longing, sometimes even much laughter. Yet the purpose seems to always be to compare life “then” to today, finding “then” to have been much better in a variety of ways.  I started wondering if this was just another version of the grass being greener, or could it be true that life was better

Technology grows

When my son was much younger after watching a DVD of one of his favorite movies he told me how sorry he was that I had to grow up with only VHS tapes because DVDs were so much better. He was dumbfounded to learn we didn’t have VHS players when I was growing up. “But how did you watch a movie you liked again?” he asked. I told him we waited till it was shown at the theater or drive-in again. He couldn’t imagine not being able to view whatever he wanted when he wanted to.

So I started to wonder, are we really happier and better off today with all the technological advantages we have now. Here are only a couple of the items I compared:

Telephone: We had one phone in our house, attached to the wall in the kitchen. It had a cord attached which allowed you to move maybe five feet from the base while talking. We also had a party line, which meant for us a total of four households shared the same line. When picking up the phone to make a call, we first had to be sure we had a dial tone and not some one else’s conversation.This was still in the late 1970’s, so the good old days really don’t seem that long ago.

Some days it frustrated us especially since one other party would use the phone from 12:30 to 4pm every weekday. She would call a friend and they would discuss the soap operas they were watching. We simply told friends and family not to call us during this time as they would only receive a busy signal. The upside was our phone bill was only $8.00 per month

Comparing that to today statistics show that more people own cell phones than land lines. The vast majority of cell phones are now smart phones. This gives us call waiting, voice mail, unlimited texting, internet, and all types of apps which can be added. We are literally connected at all times, wherever we go. The cost can be higher than $70 per month. We don’t stop at one phone either, each person above a certain age in the family has their own cell phone.

Personally, I don’t care for being connected at all times. I get annoyed by hearing other peoples conversations in stores, theaters, and even restaurants. While it could be frustrating not being able to reach someone in an emergency the introduction of the home answering machine was a wonderful invention. In this way, you could leave a message and know that when the person would hear it.

Somehow, we never saw the phone as the most important item in our lives. We spent time with our friends or family eliminating the need to make so many phone calls. Have we replaced a physical  visit with a text message?

What about our children? My youngest son got a cell phone at age 15, we had moved to Phoenix, AZ where we only knew a few people. Moving from a small town where he knew most people allowing him to stop to ask for help if needed to a city I felt the need to know he could call me if he needed help.  The biggest change for me was not knowing who he talked to.

Before his cell phone, his friends would call our house (land line) , they would show phone etiquette by saying hello, identifying themselves. While it took learning to keep our communication open at home, we eventually adjusted to the extra freedoms that came with the cell phone.

Television: Again our options were very limited, we had three channels to watch. ABC, CBS and NBC. then came PBS and later FOX. We had a rabbit ear antenna on top of the television we could adjust if the picture quality wasn’t the best. We also didn’t have a remote control,  to change the channel we had to get up, off our butts, and walk to the television to change it.

Most shows were feel good entertainment or westerns.  We didn’t have the set on all day, as we had certain shows we liked and knew when to turn on the tv to view the program.  If we were busy doing something else, we always knew the program would be repeated in a re-run later that season so we could see it another time.

Missing a television show was never something we stressed out over yet we also knew that the season was a total of 13 weeks, after that all shows were re-runs.  In the summer months no new shows were available, with the exception of the news. This worked great as we were rarely in the house during these months. Total cost ZERO because the rabbit ears came with the television set when you bought it.

Today we have cable, satellite dish services, and ability to watch programs on our computers through Hulu or Netflix. We have hundreds of channels available, if we are willing to pay for them.  We have DVR available and record our favorite shows to watch at a later time.  We also have remote controls, so we can comfortably change the channel from our seat.

With the switch to a digital signal, those who don’t want to purchase cable or another option need to buy a converter box, and antenna. If you live more than a few miles from the originating signal even that won’t allow you to pick up the channel.  The least expensive option in my area to purchase cable or satellite service starts at $30 per month. An antenna can cost $50 easily. My neighbor mentioned the other day he saves money by having cable and not the internet, then he told me he pays $60 a month for his cable service. If you want premium channels or Sunday Ticket for you sports fans your monthly bill can exceed $120 per month

Internet and computers: Before the invention of the computers and the introduction of the internet, word processing capabilities, were completed on typewriters. You couldn’t make a mistake typing, yes, we had correction tape and fluid, but you could see a correction was made. If we wanted information we went to books, encyclopedias or the library. Today we just need to turn on a computer and all the answers are there.

A typewriter cost you $30 or more depending on if you choose a manual or electric version.  An encyclopedia could be used freely at the library or purchased for several hundreds of dollars. Computers cost a minimum of $300 today, and internet is a monthly charge which (not counting dial-up) starts at $45 in most areas.

The list could go on and on and on

Cars, have you looked at all the  new features? Yes, I love my power windows in my ten years old (paid off) car. The air conditioning is also nice on the highways and the few days it’s really just too hot to want to be in a car.  The first time I owned a vehicle with air conditioning was in 1995, so I survived without it till then.

But what about all the other features we pay to have in our cars? power outlets for all our gadgets, blue tooth capabilities so we can talk on the phone, DVD players to entertain our children… These I have to say I haven’t needed or wanted, but as with everything available today each person needs to decide what works for them in their lives.

Were the good old days really better?

In some ways I believe they were. The options of say having a phone with me on a long trip, just in case of an emergency, weren’t available but I survived without it.  What I came to realize is that all our conveniences, or necessities, today come with a much higher price tag.  This cost is added to what we need to earn to pay for them.  Is the enjoyment of these things worth the cost?

For me, paying for television definitely isn’t. I don’t care for most of what is shown so I would end up paying to have the service sitting,  waiting for me to want to use it.  As for the telephone. I no longer have a land line, but then the  cost is higher than the $8 we used to pay. If you don’t have a need to make long distance calls on your land line you must still pay for the service in our area. I do have a cell phone and yes it’s a smart phone. My phone was a gift. My monthly bill is $10.  Before this phone I had a simple phone without unlimited texting or internet and was perfectly happy with it.

As for the internet, while some people do sit with their computers mindlessly for hours viewing content, I can’t fault the conveniences of owning one for me. I do, on the other hand, feel that replacing books, like encyclopedias, for our children’s educational purposes may not be a good thing in the long run, but that’s only my opinion.

So looking at the items I choose to use from the available “conveniences”. I pay for the internet and for a cell phone. My total monthly expenses come to $58. per month.

Have we given up too much for the conveniences?

Overall, the trend seems to be to find a way to make us pay for what used to be free or relatively inexpensive. I  miss the Friday nights that my aunt and uncle came over to play cards and talk.  We used to know all our neighbors, today do you know your neighbors? Does your neighborhood have children outside playing together after school and all day in summer till dusk?  I believe we are less social and more isolated today. Yes, we have Facebook, Twitter, and other ways of staying in touch, but we have lost the personal touch. In my opinion this hasn’t been an improvement to our lives. I worry what is in store for the next generation. What do you miss?

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