There’s a scene in the 1960 movie, “Inherit the Wind”, about the Scopes Monkey Trial where the Clarence Darrow character, as played by Spencer Tracy, acknowledges that with the advantages of progress there sometimes comes unforeseen costs. Plane travel is a great advancement but now the clouds smell of fuel and the birds have lost some of their wonder. Telephones are convenient but we’ve lost some of the charm of distance. If they only knew.
I’m not one to yearn for the good old days because I don’t think the good old days were necessarily that good for many people. The arc of history has invariably made things better for most of the world and particularly for those who have suffered the greatest amount. There’s a long list of significant ways that day-to-day life has improved for vast swaths of us, in my lifetime alone. But with the march of progress, the advancement of technologies, there are still a few things I miss. If just a little.
I miss land lines. Knowing someone’s phone number was a commitment. If I knew a dozen phone numbers, they were the most important people in the world to me. I could still call my friend Mike’s parents right now without looking up their number. A number they’ve had for almost fifty years. Sometimes I can’t even remember my own number and no one seems to think that’s odd. Because no one knows phone numbers anymore. There was a time when you answered your phone on faith because you didn’t know who was calling or even who they were calling for.
I used to like buying records. I saved my money and I took a bus and went to the store and bought a record. I held it in my hands. I carefully peeled off the plastic, laid it on the turntable and gently lowered the needle. And I listened. Not with the TV on or a computer on or while reading a book. I actively listened. It was my only focus. What an exciting pleasure that was. I don’t think I’m ever that focused listening to music anymore. Sitting in a room with eyes open but just listening. I miss that thrill.
I’m a baseball fan and a numbers guy and the three greatest books I ever bought were three different editions of The Baseball Encyclopaedia. They were about three thousand pages each and I could spend hour upon hour looking at random things in them. Numbers, nicknames, stories. I donated them all recently but I doubt anyone will read them. I miss having them in my home. If only to look at them on the bookshelf.
I used to love box scores in the newspaper and in 1987, while following my favourite player’s best season, I’d stay up all night after work sometimes, waiting for the newspaper truck to arrive and tell me how he did. Now I can pull up any stat imaginable on my phone instantaneously. But I don’t often. That little pleasure is gone.
As great as Netflix and other TV providers are, I miss the excitement of unexpectedly finding something great to watch on TV. Or the profound thrill of seeing a TV guide listing of a classic movie that would be on in a few days. Some friends of mine once organized a movie-watching party on a Sunday afternoon because there was an Ingrid Bergman movie listed that we’d never seen before. And we had to call each other on our parents’ phones.
The idea of taking a picture with a camera and then waiting for it to be developed to see if it turned out well was a fun feeling. It was more expensive, but when it did turn out, it seemed to be a little more valuable than our smartphone pictures. There seemed to be an investment, a committment. Not just in money but in time. Perhaps photo albums may become a thing of antiquity. But there’s a certain charm to the way a photograph ages that will be lost in the digital world.
I’m as hooked on my phone and the net and wiki as anyone. Every bit of info is at my fingertips. But I miss not knowing things sometimes. And I miss being impressed by people who know so much, not because they just looked it up but because they learned it or lived it and remembered it.
I don’t miss yesterday because I think it was better. I miss some things about yesterday because they were harder to come by, less disposable. Maybe I should try to find a payphone, call my old friend’s parents and ask them if there’s anything good on TV tonight.