Saturday, April 5, 2014

Living in the past

Dick Eastman mentions a story about a Dutch woman who decided to live in the 1930s. 

She has nothing post-World War II in her home, except for her computer, which she needs for work. But she does laundry with a bar of soap and a board, darns socks, reads, plays board games with friends, and listens to the radio. There's no TV. No cell phone either-- an antique phone for work.  She even cleans with a 1920's vacuum cleaner (I'd be terrified to use a 90-year-old electric appliance when even modern versions are a pain in the keister-- seriously, we create Google Glass, but we can't create a vacuum without a cord and continuous 80-decibel noise?). 

Anyway... 

It seems that we early 21st century moderns (including myself) are hankering for things of the past. All things "retro" are in-- big band music, record players... some people I know of even use old typewriters. 
So the question is, why? My opinion: because today's world sucks. 

Granted, the world has probably always sucked, but today we seem to be without many of the institutions and mechanisms that made it worth living in. In the past, families and communities were tight. Today families are frequently broken, and don't live with or near each other anymore. We're much more mobile, and this has the affect of scattering people and making us, frankly, rootless. 

Most people today don't know or even speak to their neighbors either. Far fewer of us belong to social and civic organizations than we did just a couple of generations ago. 

In addition to this, there's the type of work we do. In the old days, people worked physically harder in general than we do today, but this work had value and meaning. At the end of the day plowing the field, you may have been hot and tired, but there was a sense of accomplishment and pride. Today many of us work in some stupid office doing work that is frankly meaningless, in a framework of idiotic policies and rules at a company that pretends to care about you but doesn't. There's just irritation, anxiety, and no sense of pride or accomplishment or meaning in what we're doing. We're Peter Gibbons from Office Space.

Then there's technology. Yes, while we gain things with technologies, we  also lose something with them. I use email all the time, but there's a personal aspect of a handwritten letter that electronic communication just can't match.

Is it any wonder, then, why we're looking to the past and trying to simplify our lives? 

What Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse has chosen to do is probably too radical for many of us (sorry, but I rather like using washers and dryers for laundry), but the idea is attractive. I for one would like to put into practice some ways of getting back what I feel we've lost, getting rid of things that are cluttering and complicating my life and being freer and happier. 

I'm a computer addict, so forget tossing the Macbook. I already don't have cable, because 98.6% of what's on the 200+ channels is garbage-- just Apple TV. I do enjoy movies and educational programs, so getting rid of the TV isn't something I want to do either.
How would you want to go about simplifying your own life? Would there be a time period in which you would like to "live" if you could?

Discuss.