I went to the pharmacy yesterday for a flu shot. The clerk had me fill out a form, and said that I should come back in twenty minutes for the shot. I had no watch, so I asked her for the time. She looked at her computer and said it was 11:55. I proceeded to kill time by walking around the store. I looked at the walls for a clock, but there wasn’t one. There never is anymore. If I had cared enough to ask someone for the time, he or she would have pulled out a cellphone. I have no cellphone, and I only wear a watch when I anticipate needing it. Since it is easier to look at one’s wrist than to take out a phone, I don’t know why so few people wear watches, this being but one of the many things that I don't understand about modern life. Another is the abundant misuse of the word like and, to a lesser extent, the word perfect. “For example, a clerk might ask, “Like, what is your phone number?” and when I tell her (it’s usually a her), she will say, “Perfect!” Sometimes, I will respond with, “I’m so glad!” or, “At least there’s that.”
Every year, Peggy and I buy Christmas presents for the kids next door. This year, Peggy called their mother on Xmas day and left a message to call her back to arrange a time. She then left the same message on their father’s phone. Neither called back, so when I saw the woman two days later, I asked her if they had gotten Peggy’s messages, and she said that, no, they never check their voicemail because they prefer texting. Based upon my knowledge of her, I had no reason to think she was lying, yet I couldn't quite believe that she was being truthful either. A few days earlier, I was with someone who pulled out his cellphone to look something up, and he said, “Hey, I see that I got an email from you. What did you want?” I had to think for a moment because I had sent the email two weeks earlier. When I asked him why he hadn’t seen it, he said, “I don’t do email.”
My first watches were wind-ups, which were all that existed in the 1950s and ‘60s (come to think of it, my first radio had vacuum tubes, but that’s another story). I don’t remember when battery watches came out, but since they were cheaper and kept better time, I never bought another wind-up. Even so, I regard battery watches as aesthetically lacking. A wind-up watch was something to cherish, partly because it really did require daily care, whereas a battery watch is simply a way to tell time.
Another thing that puzzles me about people who are a lot younger than I is that they will sometimes watch movies or TV shows on their cellphones. My family’s first TV had about a twelve inch screen, so for the next several decades, manufacturers did their best to develop larger screens with clearer pictures, which makes the current desire to watch TV on a cellphone baffling. I don’t even recognize the names of the famous people that they watch or listen to on their cellphones, that is unless those people became famous more than twenty years ago.
When I was a child (I was born in 1949), my family’s phone number was 65M2, and since, in rural Mississippi anyway, dial phones didn’t exist, a person who wanted to place a call would pick up the receiver, and an operator would say, “Number please.” My birth family’s last phone number was 833-5184. I’ve gone through several phone numbers since then, but I only remember those two, my current one, and my last one.
Every year, fewer and fewer people will know—or care—about the technology that dominated my first several decades. They also won’t know that, instead of the word “like,” there was a time when people who lacked self-confidence would simply say, “uh…,” and that the word perfect meant superlative. I’ve always heard that many old people reach a point of feeling “ready to die.” They probably get to that point primarily due to poor health and the loss of loved ones, but I suspect it might also be tied to the fact that the world that they once knew, and still care about, is a thing of the past, and they devalue what has replaced it. The fact is that young people have a tendency to regard the old with condescension, and that the old regard them similarly.
Not that modernity is all bad. For example, I love i-Macs, safer cars, ready access to old movies and TV shows, and even cat litter (prior to the 1940s, people used sand, dirt, wood shavings, or shredded newspaper—ha, my spell check doesn’t recognize the word newspaper). It’s also true that Peggy and I would be dead by now had we been born even a few years sooner. I say this because I suffer from severe sleep apnea, and not only did CPAPS not exist prior to 1983, arrogant doctors would have thought I was lazy or that my sleepiness was all in my head. Peggy would be dead because, starting several years ago, every time she gets a cold, she ends up with bronchitis and has to go on nebulizers, inhalers, and steroids. I’m certain of it—we would be dead. On the downside, increased suffering usually walks hand-in-hand with increased longevity. While doctors can ward off many fatal ailments, they have less to offer when it comes to problems that simply make a person miserable.
I would guess that a great many changes are a mixed bag. Slavery and Jim Crow are gone, but bigotry and discrimination remain. Women have more rights, but they’re still objectified, and many of them seem hell bent on presenting themselves first and foremost as something to fuck. The cold war is over, but horrific violence and the threat of another cold war remain. A heightened concern for the environment exists, yet few people are willing to change their behavior one iota in order to avoid catastrophe. A greater concern for endangered species exists, yet we are in the midst of the second worse mass extinction the world has ever known, and it’s all our fault.
Peggy and I sometimes congratulate ourselves on not having children. We do this partly because most of her sisters’ children and grandchildren turned out to be parasites who, quite literally, never left home. More importantly, neither of us is optimistic about the future, which means that much of the worrying we do is for ourselves, for some vague entity called the planet, and for the millions of other species that we so-called homosapiens are dragging down to hell with us.