Learning to Walk Backwards

When I was born in 1985, the world I came into was full of modern conveniences. To the generations of people born before me, everything about my life is considered to be the “new way” of doing things. Now that I am an adult, I am re-discovering the way people used to do things in the past.

What I am finding out is that in some cases, the newer way is not always better. Don’t get me wrong, I love pulling out my smart phone and using the app from my bank to check my account. No way would I rather balance a checkbook instead! I am not about to argue that vinyl records sound better than CDs (they don’t) or anything like that.

Take a look at this list of differences between previous generations and now:

The Standard Way:

  • Cars are rear-wheel drive with V8 engines and carburetors
  • Cameras take film
  • Razors have interchangeable blades
  • Watches need to be wound
  • Keep track of finances by balancing a checkbook
  • Pay for purchases with cash or check
  • Buy products at the store, little to no comparison shopping
  • Watch television shows on TV
  • Purchase music on cassette or vinyl
  • Discover new artists from the radio
  • Read news, comics, and editorials in the newspaper
  • Game night with friends meant Monopoly or Life
  • Send letters and correspondence by mail
  • Cook food on the range or in the oven
  • Drink water from the tap
  • Computer is a glorified word processor, a tool for business people
  • Find answers to questions in the Encyclopedia, or at the library
  • A phone hung on the wall in your kitchen

The New Way:

  • Cars are front-wheel drive with 4/6 cylinder engines and fuel injection
  • Cameras are digital
  • Razors are disposable
  • Watches are Quartz automatic, inexpensive, and very accurate
  • Keep track of finances with mobile apps
  • Pay for purchases with credit, debit, or electronically
  • Buy products online, lots of comparison shopping
  • Watch television shows online, DVD box sets
  • Purchase music electronically
  • Discover new artists from niche blogs, personalized radio stations
  • Read news, comics, and editorials online (blogs)
  • Game night with friends means playing video games
  • Letters and correspondence replaced by email and Facebook
  • Cook food in the microwave
  • Drink filtered/bottled water
  • Computer is an everyday tool for work, entertainment, communication
  • Find answers to questions on the Internet
  • Phone is a device in your pocket

In a lot of ways, technology has improved our lives. A digital camera makes it easy to take an excellent photo without knowing anything about shutter speeds, exposure, and lighting.

However, most people no longer have an understanding of how things work. We have traded control for convenience and simplicity. As things get easier to use and more convenient, they also become more watered down and featureless.

In my lifetime, the majority of consumer products we use everyday have transitioned from being adjustable and user-serviceable to sealed, proprietary systems. Products that were once built to last have now been replaced by less expensive disposable products of inferior quality and features.

What I am finding out is that people of the past had a lot more to worry about, but they also had more control over many aspects of their lives. They could go out and adjust the screws on their carburetor and tune how their car runs. They could adjust, fix, and repair so many things that we just cannot do today. People born before me also had to be better at planning ahead because they didn’t have traction control or mobile weather alerts or overdraft protection.

So are we really better off in our mass-produced, throw-away society? In some ways yes, in other ways, no. Cars are safer, cheaper, and more reliable than they have ever been. I like not carrying coins in my pocket and I like listening to high-quality audio with no pops or clicks.

But I also like the idea of being able to fix my own car with simple hand tools, which is becoming less likely as time goes on. I like the idea of choosing what music I will listen to instead of having it chosen for me by an algorithm. I like the idea of adjusting and optimizing everything I own to suit my own preferences.

In some ways, I have started choosing the old way instead of the new way. I’ve been working on fixing up a 1977 Chevrolet with my friends for the past 2 years and it’s vastly easier to work on than my 1995 Chevrolet. I am considering ditching my throwaway razors and buying a vintage safety razor. I am trying to cook more of my own foods instead of relying on frozen/takeout and other instant meals. I am learning to walk backwards, and I am enjoying it so far.

About the author

Trevor Freeman

Trevor Freeman is a writer, photographer, and maker who loves learning new things. His favorite food is pizza. He received a Bachelor's Degree in Business Management from Grand Canyon University. He lives and works in Phoenix.

You can follow Trevor on Twitter @TrevorFreemanAZ, on Instagram at @arizona.dreamin, and on YouTube: TheRealTrevorland.

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