“People who don't want to think about outlawing handguns haven't seen firsthand the kind of damage they do." -- J. A. Jance, "Payment in Kind"

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Plus ca Change ...

     "The toilet paper is just the same," I said, walking into the kitchen. "And so are the paper towels."

     "What?" B responded. 

     "In fact, the entire bathroom is just the same as when we were kids."

     "What are you talking about?"

     "And so is the kitchen," I continued as I looked around at the refrigerator, the stove, the dishwasher. "You see, everyone keeps complaining about the 'pace of change' -- that everything changes so quickly these days, that it's hard to keep up. But I don't think it's really true."

     She rolled her eyes. "Well, then, why don't you tell that to my iPad. I can host a Zoom meeting from my desktop, but I can't figure out how to do it from my iPad."

     "Okay," I acknowledged. "We have personal computers and smart phones and other ways to communicate at the drop of a hat . . . or at the swipe of a key. But otherwise, our lives work pretty much the same way as when we were kids. In fact, I'd argue that our grandparents experienced more change in their lifetimes than we have in ours."

     "Okay, I'm listening," she said. "Please explain." 

     I knew I had to jump at the chance, because B says she's listening about as often as she says that I am right! So what was I talking about?

     I'd been sitting in the living room, reading a book, and happened to lift my gaze over to the fireplace. We don't use the fireplace very often because we have central heat. An oil burner with baseboard hot water. Or . . . exactly the same kind of heat we had in our house when I was a kid, 50 years ago.

     So I began to wonder: how much has really changed? I live in a house that was built in 1963. I think the windows were replaced, and I know central air conditioning was installed at some point, because I can see the ducts in the back of the closets. But everything else about the house is the same as it was in 1963. So everything about our daily lives -- especially when we're mostly confined to our house during the pandemic -- is pretty much the same as it would have been in 1963.

     Except for the computer sitting on my desk, and the phone in my hand. Those are different, to be sure. Now I have the dubious pleasure of watching the cable channels that were not available in the 1960s, and the even more doubtful experience of checking in on Facebook or Twitter to view the latest rant by some political extremist . . . or see yet another picture of my cousin's grandchildren who are just the cutest kids on earth and I know that because she posts pictures of them three times a day.

     I can also watch a lot of movies and TV series through Amazon or Netflix, on demand. That's pretty cool. I can get reruns of Seinfeld, The Carol Burnett Show and even Gunsmoke on some of the cable channels. And I can watch 60 Minutes, a show which premiered in September 1968.

     But even when the pandemic lets up and I can go outside, how different will the world look? I'll get in my car to go to the grocery store. But I could drive a car in the 1960s, too. Sure, there are some improvements. There were no airbags, no backup cameras, no GPS, in the 1960s. But the basic experience is the same. The grocery store looks the same. The food is still the same -- they still sell broccoli!

     I'll be able to get on an airplane and fly to Charleston, SC, to see the grandkids. But I could get on an airplane in the 1960s, too. The flight is a little less expensive now (adjusted for inflation) and probably more crowded. But basically, it's the same experience.

     Compare this to the lives of our grandparents. When they were kids, there were no airplanes. There were no cars. They took a trolley, or rode a horse. Many of them had no electricity, and no central heat until they upgraded their homes as adults. They didn't have Social Security or Medicare. And they didn't live long enough to need them. 

     My grandparents were all born around 1885. Life expectancy in the U. S. at that time was about 41 years. By the time my parents were born life expectancy had gone up to 54. By the 1960s, it was 70 years. Since then it's gone up some more, but despite advances in medicine the increase has leveled off. It has shown less change, not more change. 

     And recent statistics show that the life expectancy for our grandchildren has not changed at all. For those born in 2010 the average life expectancy is 78.7. For my granddaughter, born in 2020, it is also 78.7.

     Anyway, I have to go now. I have to set the table for dinner. And light the candles. B likes candles. 

     Or . . . plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose


gigi-hawaii said...

I don't like candles. They might burn the house the down.

Julie said...

And don't forget that many of our grandparents had no indoor plumbing! This post reminds me of a talk I gave back in the late 1990s on the "New Economy". This was the idea that computers and the internet were such huge innovations that economic productivity would be lifted to the point where the business cycle was cured and we would never have a recession again (haha). To counter this, I referred to Robert Gordon's article "Does the "New Economy" Measure Up to the Great Inventions of the Past?", in which he argued that innovations of the "Second Industrial Revolution" such as the electric light, the electric motor, the automobile, the airplane, the telephone, radio and then television and of course indoor plumbing had a far greater effect on livings standards and economic productivity than computers and the internet.

ApacheDug said...

"The toilet paper is just the same," I said, walking into the kitchen. "And so are the paper towels." Not to be a nitpicker Tom, but they're actually quite different! When I was a kid in the early 70s, paper towels were always green or orange and TP was either baby blue or pink. Now both products come 99% in white--and cost a LOT more, even adjusted for inflation! :)

In all seriousness, I know what you mean and you make a very good point. I may be sitting here on the internet, answering someone's blog post from across the state (just as soon as I press ENTER) but I'm also listening to christmas music on my radio, while some chicken is roasting in my stove. :) So,we have the best of both worlds :)

Trudi said...

Part of the longer life span is due to medical advances... some in your parent's lifetime but many in yours. I was born in 1941. At that time, while antibiotics existed, they were not commonly available. People died of infections that today are considered no big deal. Polio was a huge worry every summer. Kidney transplants. Say what? Artificial knees and hips? Skip to my Lou!

And today I'm amazed that men have walked on the moon. Not me... and not you but somebody did! We use to look at the moon with our sweeties. Still can!

DJan said...

Now that I think of it, many parts of my life are the same as they were fifty years ago. But certainly not my intellectual life, as the internet and blogging have transformed it. I can't actually remember having paper towels when I was a kid. We must have, but I sure don't remember. :-)

DUTA said...

People have changed. Human beings are more corrupt, more treacherous, more selfish,. less naive.

Arkansas Patti said...

Guess it depends where you live. My neighbor often states that when she moved here 50 years ago with her new husband, they had no electricity or indoor plumbing. I'm saying for her things are not the same, me pretty much if you don't count electronics.

Rian said...

Maybe it's just me, Tom, but I don't remember what the toilet paper or paper towels were like when I was young... I do remember floor heaters and attic fans... and the old wall gas heater in the bathroom (that could really heat up a room fast). If I had to say the biggest change that I find is being able to "google anything" and get an immediate answer. I love that! (and it still amazes me)

ApacheDug said...

For the record, I was googling the history of paper products (don't I have anything better to do?) and saw Scot Toilet Tissue (those individual rolls wrapped in crinkly paper) and Scot Towels, and remembered having both those (white only) products in our home before colored Charmin or Viva paper towels came along. So I do stand corrected... I guess the more things change, the more things stay the same :)

Kay said...

Gee, I don't think we used paper towels when we were kids though yes, we did have toilet paper. Hmmm... interesting, my mom was born in 1929 and she will be 92 this year.

Red said...

Some how or other this sounds all too simple. As a society we are highly stressed. Were we this stressed in 1960? My house was built in 1963 too. There have been no renovations. the house next door was mostly torn down and renovated. They took off brick and replaced it with vinyl siding. Anyway you make a good case for little change. I know I've changed a lot!

Tom said...

Well, Red, and DUTA too, that brings up an interesting question: How much have we changed in the last 50 years, both as individuals and also as a society? I often wonder if the me of today would be recognizable as the me of high school or college years. An idea for another post.

Janette said...

Wow! I see loads of change. My refrigerator can tell me what is missing, front door can tell me that a package is delivered, lights can be turned on from 500 miles away, car can drive, almost on its own, to a charging station. I have no real need to go to a store. I can log onto my computer, a person in India will figure it out, send a message and it can all be delivered- soon by drone.
My son does his "office work" at home in a few hours which used to take 10 hours (between commute and the box he worked in). Most gardens have "pest free" seeds planted, keeping them lovely. My grands drink almond milk and no one has had a single ear infection....they did their annual check ups on computer screens---Was that really a human doctor? Hummm- come to think of it I only see a NP. Certainly not the white male doctor of my past.
People are, slowly, figuring out that delivery of education does not need to be in person unless there is a child care/social interaction need.They are also discovering that education is not as robust as the 1960's. AI could easily handle the memorization paperwork for several thousand children (Think Spock at the beginning of a Star Trek movie). Like the past- the upper classes will always have someplace to send their children and the rest of the people will just figure it out.
Having children, for the upper working class, is changing. More and more depend on artificial means (much like we have done with production animals) for a number of years. Women "wait too long"needing assistance and abortion of non perfect humans is much more common. Actually after this- the upper working class is forgoing children in mass.
OTOH keeping wanted babies alive is a huge medical change. Cloning is coming along well. Keeping elderly alive has also changed. Nana and Granddaddy were permitted to die at home without "help". Gosh, I do not want a machine anywhere near me when I die.

Last and most important? what we pay people with is going to change really soon....

BTW- I don't utilize most of these inventions- but my kids do. Nana watched the first plane land in Arizona- but only took one plane flight in her life. She passed in 1979 at age 85. The older we get, the less likely we are to use/need change.

Anonymous said...

My Uncle Raymond was born in 1887 and I recall a conversation where I was extolling the dramatic changes in his lifetime - he went from living on a farm with no electricity and a well for water to seeing a man on the moon. Almost everything they needed was available from the land. He assured me that my lifetime would have innovations, too. But the lifestyle changes! Many times as I sat in traffic on my daily commute (often in dreadful weather conditions), I realized that on that farm, nobody commuted anywhere. They got up in the morning and worked around the farm and home. What food they couldn't produce was purchased on occasional trips to town. Have our incessant shopping trips really been some kind of innovation? Or did they just rob us of the evenings sitting on the porch so common in those days? Has that loss been the source of our culture's stress?

In some ways I think the pandemic has brought positive changes to our society. Young people everywhere are growing victory gardens and re-learning basic cooking/baking/sewing skills. Because they don't have to commute, they've regained all that lost time.

I eschew a lot of the "modern" upgrades to our homes, and Janette's description sounds dystopian to me. If my refrigerator ever tells me what is missing, I'll unplug it! I am eternally grateful, however, for central heating, electricity and indoor plumbing.

Olga said...

My question is did B actually really listen to all of that?

I know that my parents, born in the early 1900's marveled at the changes they saw over their lifetimes. My father was a month old when the Wright brothers made their flight at Kitty Hawk and he lived to see a man walk on the moon. He had such a sense of wonder about each new advance. I think today there is the tendency to just expect things to improve and improve and the sense of wonder is lost somehow.

Don said...

Great post, Tom. I have also looked around at times and thought how many things haven't really changed in many, many years. But, you know one that HAS changed during our generation? The size of people. And, no, I'm not just talking about a few pounds as we age. I'm talking about ALL ages--especially children and young adults. All you have to do is take a look at almost any group photo from the 1970s or before and then compare it to any group photo from the last 20 years and you'll see. I notice it particularly in wedding party photos as they are usually younger people. Today, you would be hard pressed to find even one without at least several very heavy, overweight young people. I'm more and more convinced that we are, indeed, headed for that time in the movie Wall-E.

Tom said...

Olga: In regards to your question. Okay, I'm busted! But aren't we allowed a little literary license?

Wisewebwoman said...

A great post Tom but I would disagree on the changes for women whose lives were incredibly improved by (a) the birth control pill and (b) the washing machine. I would add a myriad of other products but you catch my drift.

I am the lucky one who remembers my granny's open range, pots hanging over the fire on a cast iron rod. Big zinc bathtub for the washing and bathing. Oil lamp hanging over the table. Chickens to be fed, rabbits to be caught, grandfather off to work on his high nelly bike as a labourer slaving on the roads, back breaking work.


Tabor said...

Growing up on a farm and not having much money, a great deal has changed for me. I guess everyone experiences the future a bit differently.

Fred said...

Convenience is the largest change I have seen. The exchange has been the hassle of too many choices and so much background noise.
When it comes to lifespan my family has not seen any change. All my grandparents were born in the late 1800's and lived till mid to late 80's. No significant medical intervention was required by anyone. I know that is just pure luck. Radio, TV and now the internet all had so much promise to better society but in many ways have contributed just as much to the downside. The internet should have made us all so much more informed but instead we see rampant ignorant conspiracies and purely blatant lies. In many ways a lot of the population believes in things that are just as ignorant as beliefs 100 yrs ago. I will not forget the story of my dad's mom musing with her neighbor ladies if hanging my dad upside down over a bowl of soup would draw the worms out of him. He did not hang around them that day.
Life is much easier now but much noisier.

Linda Myers said...

Huge changes in my lifetime. I had a career rather than staying at home with my children, and we all survived my being a single mom at the same time. I can sit in my recliner on a sunny day in Arizona and enjoy this conversation with people I have never met in person, who live all over. I can order just about anything without getting out of my chair.

This summer I managed a home remodel happening in Seattle. I did the money stuff and the acquiring and the consulting. My son and my husband Art did the manual things.

Plynjyn said...

When I was in grade school, I remember visiting my maternal grandparents on their farm. They had an outhouse and the TP was pages out of the Sears Roebuck catalog that most anything could be ordered from. A chamber pot was available if we kids needed it during the night and I remember not liking to use that either. Their refrigerator was the size of a very large bookcase and had many doors you would open into little compartments. They had a piano that played rolls of paper you inserted into a compartment above the keyboard. They played records on a victrola you wound up with a handle on the side before placing the needle down on the vinyl record. Their telephone was on a party line that allowed you to listen in to your neighbors conversations. The stove in the kitchen required wood. Dishes were washed in a dishpan with water heated on the wood stove. I was born in 1949 and appreciate the comforts we enjoy in 2020.

Laurie Stone said...

Interesting food for thought, especially about the bathroom. You're right. Very little has changed there at all, especially the toilet paper!

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Anonymous said...

One change is the increased noise level. I can remember as a child, even as an adolescent being able to find quiet places not far from where I lived (urban/suburban). The dead end street I lived on until I was 8r country) was very quiet at night. You could hear the wind moving through the trees, if there was any wind--and that would be about all you'd hear. That quiet was going to end because as we left, a new road/highway was being built not that far away.
I attended college on eastern LI, and at that time, when I walked to a part-time job in the morning in winter, it was pretty quiet. Some vehicle noise but there were not HUGE diesel pickups then, boom boom (megabass) vehicles blasting by, and happily, I don't remember having my ears blasted by loud pipe Harleys, although I'm sure they were around. There was far less traffic then there is now on the street I crossed every morning.
There weren't the large numbers of small & large fixed wing aircraft (and now helicopters, now that they've become the way to commute to work, to vacation homes, for the wealthy) that there are now. I remember hearing lawnmowers, but no leaf blowers, and every other "landscaping tool" that's now gas-fueled, pruners, edgers, et al. I've almost always lived in urban/suburban areas, it's not as if I lived in a rural area. I spent about a month for the past 3 years where I lived from middle school until I left for college--the noise level has skyrocketed because almost everyone now uses a "landscaping" service to mow their grass, and their tools seemed to get larger every year and ever noisier. Air traffic has increased so much that while my mother's house is 15 miles from the nearest airport, huge commercial passenger jets are regularly routed over that part of LI. Sometimes the jets fly so low you can count every porthole. That started in the mid-late 80's.
It is quieter where a friend lives, in valley that's surrounded by national forest land & some private timber land . . unless someone's clearcutting their trees (private land), someone roars by in their HUGE pickup with their sound system blasting. There's at least one helicopter that flies up & down the valley periodically--owned by one of the private timber owners--helicopters are very noisy. Timber's hauled out in big trucks, so they're loud too.
Think you'll get some quiet at a state park in Oregon, guess again, people blasting music, riding ATVs or in the national dunes area, dune buggies, etc., Even if you're walking somewhere else (where supposedly, motorized vehicles are banned), you can hear the revving, roaring engines from several miles away. Ditto the Whalen state refuge in Tillamook county, beautiful place, if you can ignore the loud roars of pickups, et al "offroading" --out of sight but most definitely not out of hearing.

People didn't just use trolleys and horses, people rode bicycles. In addition, some of the streetcars went up to 90 mph (those going from suburb to suburb) which is faster then the average speed of Amtrak trains today, with the exception of the Acela--for some of its route, & a few other stretches of track in the US. Thanks to Congress, and commercial rail (since Amtrak uses mostly privately owned freight rail), passenger rail in the US made it into the mid 20th century, then fell way behind. With the pandemic & decreased state & city budgets, it looks as though we'll regress back to the early early 1800's as far as speedy mass transit. So look forward to more particulates pollution, more noise.

If you have an older toilet paper holder, you'll have noticed the TP rolls have gotten smaller, diameter is the same, but the rolls are shorter. I think I first noticed it a couple of years ago.

Carol Cassara said...

I like my modern comforts but at times I do want to drive back to the 1960s. When life was simpler. Maybe not better. But simpler. At least for white folk. I'm not meaning this literally but i do sometimes think simpler is better. Not socially but other ways.

Rebecca Olkowski said...

My great-grandparents on my dad's side came to the US in late 1870s from Poland and both lived to be 95. When I think of how they lived, the squalor of NYC, and the flu epidemic, I don't know how they survived that long.

Jennifer (UnfoldAndBegin) said...

Yes, my grandparents were born in the 1880s and saw so much change in their lifetime. From no cars and planes to cars, planes, and rockets. Yes, we've seen a lot of changes in things like computers and electronics, but the beginnings of both were already created before I was born.

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Snowbrush said...

"'The toilet paper is just the same,' I said..."

With a variety of posts to choose from, I naturally honed in on the one with a roll of toilet paper.

I wish Peggy and I could make toilet paper last the way you guys do because although we buy the large Kirkland rolls, a is gone in three days or less. I blame her for this sorry state of affairs, but then she blames me, a chain of reflection that leads me to wonder how people got by without bought toilet paper back when cholera and dysentery were commonplace. Because I remember rural poverty and outhouses, I also remember Sears Catalogs, but what I don't remember (being young at the time) is how well it worked--not very, I shouldn't imagine.

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