Most of us who are older than 50 have received those emails with a long list of things we had back in the good old days, and we are asked how many of them we remember. Some of us do remember when we didn’t have to lock our doors or cars, being able to buy a 3-inch Milky Way bar for a nickel, milk delivered in glass bottles, etc.You and I remember all those things and wish we could have those times back. But it’s all in proportion, I know. We would have to take what went with those times. A lot more people would die younger from diseases we can now either cure or prevent.
A lot more people would have missing teeth or complete dentures by middle age. If one had an operation for cataracts, he would have to wear very thick eyeglass lenses to see. People had plastic surgery only to repair disfiguring defects or injuries. Almost all adults–especially men–smoked cigarettes, pipes, or cigars.
We could not expect to make any long road trips without having to fix at least one flat tire, and needing to carry spare parts for the car. Most kids would have to walk or ride bicycles to school, and they would carry a brown-bag lunch with them. We would not make long-distance calls unless someone was very sick or had died. We used manual typewriters, and if we made mistakes, they would have to be erased with a thin, wheel-shaped eraser with a brush attached to it. Spell-check was a dictionary. We got the news from the daily newspaper or the radio. We also could see newsreels at the movies, though they may have been last week’s news. And families sat around the radio in the evenings listening to weekly dramas and shows. Women had their “soap operas” to listen to as they did their housework, and children could listen to adventure serials after school. And on weekends, people actually got together with friends and played cards or board games! On Sunday afternoons, people took their families for a drive in the “country.” Almost everyone we knew went to church on Sunday, and that’s where we made our friends, who were people we could trust.
We paid cash for almost everything and stood in lines at the bank to deposit or withdraw money. Only actors colored or bleached their hair. People read magazines and wrote long letters with pen and paper to their friends and family who lived out of town. And there were many more family farms. Credit was what you had at the neighborhood grocery and hardware stores if you got paid once a month. And we ate butter if we could afford it; colored salted oleo if we could not. And we didn’t know any better, and I think most of us were happier with less.
Now, to get back to those values, we would have to go through a global disaster (worse than we are having now, but not so bad that we would have to kill each other for food.) I think maybe the key to the problem is that we have too much unnecessary communication with everyone, all the time, and instantly. The more layers of communication we could strip away, the more fundamental our values would become, and the simpler and calmer our lives would become. What we had to say, then, would become more important. Nations would be separated by vast distances from some other parts of the world, and so we would draw closer as national communities, instead of being unwilling members of a fragmented global community. In other words, we would mind our own business unless we were provoked by someone else and forced to defend ourselves.