Vintage things you don’t see anymore
Jan 16, 2019 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Dear readers, 2019 is well underway – in fact – my neighbors and I were just commiserating that the holidays seem long gone. Once the Christmas light glow has faded, the ornaments carefully arranged in bubble wrap, and visiting relations back in their own homes – it can seem a bit empty. The warmth of the season is soon replaced with the hope and promise of a new year.
That newness can be equal parts exciting and scary. Inevitably these emotions leave us vintage enthusiasts feeling extra-nostalgic and I’ve started this month by embracing a historic perspective. The motivational posters of yesteryear got my wheels turning – what are some of the vintage things we don’t see or experience anymore and what can we learn from their absence? Join me as we countdown my list of the top five (and please let me know what makes your list in the comments below)…
Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Hedy Lamarr, GPS and satellite navigation mean that we’ll never have to be lost again. There was a time when mapmaking and map reading was a carefully honed skill. There was a time when people accepted that their journey’s end could only be given a general estimate (and often those ETAs went by the scale of days, rather than minutes). In our modern age we can plan every minute on our calendars. We know exactly how long it will take our Amazon Now delivery to arrive or when our Lyft driver will pull up. Thanks to maps on our phones and tablets, we can often follow every movement of the people who only intersect our lives for a moment – the time it takes to transact business.
Never having to be lost and never having to be unsure of the day’s future activities can sound amazing, but it brings its own challenges. Without experiencing the heart-racing moments of being in unknown territory, we’re missing out on some experiences that are valuable. People talk about the fear of missing out, but I’ve personally found that “missing out” can sometimes lead to “finding awesome!” In my new city, I’ve started a new tradition – looking at a map before I leave the house, rather than having it pulled up on my phone. It’s helped me feel more confident in foreign surroundings and it’s also trained me to notice / appreciate details in a different way. In time I’m hoping it nurtures greater patience in me, but we’ll have to see about that!
How often do you rely on your phone for directions? Do you find yourself feeling impatient when things take longer than expected? If so, I suggest you try kicking it old school during your next outing and see how it impacts your experience…
A bit of mystery in your communications
The morning news programs have been reporting on a startling statistic – nearly half the phone calls we receive in the coming year will be spam. I’m thankful that I have caller ID to help screen out this unwanted noise. But there was a time when you didn’t know who was calling until you picked up. A ringing phone was an event in the homes of twenty years ago and someone calling during dinner signaled an emergency. Today, we often take for granted the various modes of communication we have at our disposal – text, video messaging, call, email, etc. It seems like there’s a new app coming out daily that promises to connect us in new and exciting ways.
Going back to the first years of telephone communications, conversations weren’t even guaranteed privacy. This was the era of the party line. Neighbors, even strangers, shared the same phone line and had to be considerate of others’ needs as they navigated this communal service. These days we can be extremely selective in who we choose to communicate with and how we engage with them. But what would happen if that completely changed? What would happen if we had to share with someone we didn’t even know? Would this foster more cooperation? Something worth pondering in this increasingly complex world that is both fantastically connected, yet isolated.
Gratification that you have to work for
When something’s on the tip of your tongue it can be so frustrating – like the itch you’ve just gotta scratch. Today, we simply ask Alexa or cruise over to Google to get a quick reply to random questions. Within just a few moments we become an expert. If someone asks you for a restaurant recommendation, you can be johnny-on-the-spot with a thoughtful review. Our opinions are immediately elevated on top of the shoulders of the past – no effort required on our part. But just a generation ago, people had to rely on their own knowledge. When that didn’t work a journey to the library was in order. (If you were lucky the library would be in your own home, thanks to those persistent Encyclopedia salesmen.) We’ve talked about the predecessors to Yelp! and Amazon in past features, but it’s interesting to consider how even answering the smallest question required a bit of work.
Physical, published material requires updating and careful editing. It requires a team of people who are passionate about, and knowledgeable of, a specific topic. Modern technology has eased the discipline around these efforts and while the democratization of information is amazing, if that is coupled with a lack of responsibility it becomes dangerous. What do you want to be an expert in this year? What will your research plan look like?
Process as craftsmanship
Every week, I face my laptop and prepare to write these articles. Snacks in hand, I outline and rewrite paragraphs. It can sometimes be a messy process as I force the words of my thoughts into order. But if I were writing in generations past, it would be a much messier process indeed. If you’ve ever worked on a typewriter you can appreciate the value of good spelling, fast typing, and composed thoughts.
My very first job as a teenager involved just such a machine. I remember thinking it was an ancient dinosaur and I was in awe of its scale and serious bearing. An IBM typewriter that ran the length of my desk, I quickly learned how to fix a typing error with an eraser and white-out. There is a fine art in modifying your letter without having to start over. This delicate process makes each action seem much more definitive. In some ways, that hinders the creative process. But in other ways, it asks you to exercise a part of your brain often underutilized in our day-to-day activities: thinking before sharing our thoughts! What if Twitter didn’t come with a backspace or CTRL + Z? How could paced thoughts reshape our world? How could taking extra time to communicate impact your daily life?
Manual labor as a prerequisite
Living today in developed countries is a relatively easy endeavor. Most of our chores can be done with a push of a button. But in the recent past, daily activities required actual strength. (Remember our article on laundry or our study on Victorian-era cooking?) In the years pre-dating electricity everyone was a jack (or jill) of all trades. Even long after electricity had been embraced in homes, people remained experts in making do and mending. It’s only recently that we’ve lost some of those abilities. I know I feel the absence of certain skills in my own life. I try to be handy with things, but struggle. Often I give up when I don’t get the desired results in a timely fashion (see above about that hope for increased patience!). This mixture of events often lead me to paying others for their assistance. Not always a bad thing, to be sure. But, as with all things, it’s important to seek balance. Farming out your chores can set you up for less physical activity in general. (I know I personally struggle with this fine line.)
I take comfort in knowing I’m not the only one. Television advertisements in January are focused on selling folks like me new exercise equipment: the peloton, the latest bowflex, and machines with artificial intelligence. This is an entire industry that fills in the gap that our modern conveniences leave in their wake. As we discovered in the feature “Easy Street“, mankind is a curious bunch who always questions the process. As we consider how we encourage more physical activity in our routine, perhaps we make do, mend, and put in a little elbow grease!
When I reflect on this list, it can be easy to see things in a negative light. But instead of fearing that we’re all getting lonelier, lazier, and more impolite – I choose to see the good. The folks who came before us lived full and happy lives without modern conveniences. The takeaway for me: think of how joyful our lives can be by combining the lessons they taught us with these technological advancements!