Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Friday, November 30, 2012

Sometimes Today is Better than Yesteryear

For my kids, a Geezer is defined as a grumpy old codger who complains about almost every modern trend and preference, a fellow who always believes that the past was somehow more noble, more honest, more creative….just plain better than today.

This is not true, kids. I, as well as virtually all Geezers, can find something about modern life that is better than it was in the distant past. (The Professor, I’d argue, in his steadfast defense of antiquated mores, is the exception that proves the rule— that Geezers are reasonable souls).

True, it’s an undisputed fact that movies, politics, books, music, parenting practices, philosophy, education, men’s magazines, college athletics, business practices, Wall Street, space exploration, quantum physics, Broadway theater, stand-up comedy, fine cuisine, and hamburgers are all much worse today than they were 30 years ago.

But as evidence that I’m a reasonable, modern, “hip” Geezer, I offer that the following modern innovations truly ARE better today than “in the day.”

• Frozen Pizza
• Automobiles
• Consumer Electronics
• Luggage
• Drugs
• Clothing fabrics
• The Internet
• International travel
• Burritos
• Locally brewed beer

Let’s take them one by one:

Frozen Pizza.  Everyone acknowledges that a fresh pizzeria pizza, or a home-prepared pizza is by far the better choice, but almost everyone acknowledges that as a quick snack while watching a ballgame, we’ve been known to throw a frozen pizza into the oven.

When frozen pizzas appeared in the 1960’s and 1970s, they were essentially quasi-edible cardboard disks covered with a sprinkling of cheese and 5 or 7 pepperonis or clumps of sausage. “Deluxe” pizza had both the bargain-basement pepperonis AND the faux sausage.

It’s now quite possible to buy edible, even good frozen pizza, including variations with rising bread crusts, whole-wheat crusts; variations that offer good reproduction of Chicago style, California-style pizzas.

Today’s frozen pizza is just flat-out better.

Automobiles.  I have some Geezer friends who lament the fact that they no longer have to tinker with their cars.  They are bat-shit crazy. Cars are meant to give you dependable transportation, and by this standard today’s cars are light-years better. My first car required new spark plugs every 20,000 miles or so; the last two cars I’ve owned were handed off with 120,000 miles or more and never did require new plugs.  New cars now routinely achieve 38 or 40 miles per gallon, and generate significantly more horsepower that before,  with a mere 2.0 or 2.5 liters of displacement.

Not a lot of argument here. A 2012 automobile isn’t in the same class with a 1990 car.

Consumer electronics.  Yes, we’re too connected to the world these days. Yes, there is an information overload.  Yes, people talk and text on cell-phones too much.

But my smart-phone is a thing of wonder. When you evaluate the individual features, you find individual devices that do the job better—dedicated digital cameras, laptop computers, e-book readers, personal gaming consoles. But to pack passable versions of all these devices into one little product the size of a cigarette pack, and sell it for $200….well, that’s just frickin’ amazing. And my Macbook air is a thing of wonder—a wafer thin computer packed with all the power an editor could need.

Remember when a great piece of personal electronics was a cassette-playing boom box the size of a small suitcase?  Now tell me that today’s electronics aren’t far superior.

Once upon a time, a really good TV weighed about 400 lbs. and cost about $1000 (which, in today’s dollars, would be about $5000.  Today, you can have a high definition flat screen television that does a fabulous job with sports or movies for $500 or so. And do we really want to compare a blue-ray player with a VHS video tape player?

I recently read an article that said the typical smart phone of today has more computing power than the combined power of all the computers scientists used in the 1960's to get us to the moon. Now, that says a lot about the ingenuity we had back then, but it also speaks volumes of what our technology has done for consumers

Sorry. No Geezer, no matter how grumpy, can really dispute this. We have better gadgets today. 

Luggage.  In my youth and even early adult-hood, a piece of luggage for routine travel was a sturdy case with a tote handle that you lugged in defiance of gravity.  Then somebody got the brilliant idea to join this with one of man’s earliest inventions—the wheel—to finally make traveling somewhat easier.  The fact that it took the human race 3,000 years to put these two things together says that homo sapiens is not quite the innovative species we’d like to believe.

Don’t we all feel sheepish about this one?

Drugs. As a society, do we over-medicate?  Of course.  Do we wreak havoc by using antibiotics capriciously, thereby breeding super germs. You bet.  Do we often reach for a pill, when the ailment would be better addressed by changes in personal philosophy or behavior? No question about it.  Is our health care system a shambles?  Undoubtedly.

But beyond all that, there are lots of truly awful diseases that can now be addressed by narrow-spectrum drugs that reduce these from life-threatening ailments to chronic, easily managed conditions, Remember when tens of thousands of people were blinded by glaucoma?  Probably not, if you’re under 40 years of age. In my younger years, having type 1 diabetes meant you had a very good chance of going blind or having an extremity amputated at some point in life.  Today, it can be largely managed.

In 1990, a young boy named Ryan White died of the aids virus after contracting it from a blood transfusion and living for some years with ostracism and harassment at the hands of schoolmates and their parents. Today, Magic Johnson is a celebrity for living successfully with the HIV virus as a chronic condition. In my youth, epilepsy could only be treated with barbiturates that made people feel like they were swimming in molasses; today’s narrow-spectrum drugs have almost no side effects while controlling the condition far better.

You’d have to be a truly grumpy Geezer to want to go back to 1950 when it comes to therapeutic drugs.

(Note:  I make no comments on the nature of modern recreational drugs vs. the old stuff. I’m no longer in a position to speak with any authority on that subject.)

Clothing fabrics.  When I was growing up, you had cotton, you had wool, and blends of the two. All of it incredibly natural, and also incredibly difficult to care for. Remember the days when everything had to be ironed by hand? In those days, we all laughed at “plastic” fabrics like nylon and rayon and polyester, but today we’d be lost without them.  It’s been years since I’ve had to iron a shirt or pair of trousers, and all my clothes last far longer than they ever did.  Sure, I kind of like to have my clothes to be blends that include some cotton or wool, but the synthetics are here to stay, thanks be.

And I don’t know what they are made of, but the compression undershirts I’ve started wearing are both warm and incredibly comfortable.  I never had that feeling about cotton undershirts.

As regards fabrics, chalk another one up to 2013.

The internet.  This is cheating a little, because the web really didn’t exist in any appreciable way until 1990 or so (it was just a tool among academics in universities in the early days) but holy cow, has anything been more revolutionary in changing how we access information?

I find it truly magical that when I try to search for a file within my company database using a string of text, it can take 15 or 20 minutes to do so (if it’s possible at all); but type in a term like “photo of Susan Sarandon wearing garters”, and I get 395,000 results in less than one second, drawn from individual computers and file servers from all over the globe.

Yes, there’s a lot of garbage and misinformation on the Internet. But you can find a great volume of the world’s classic wisdom, too.  I have access to books that once would have been almost impossible to find, thanks to the web. And the Internet has given us email, too, the boons of which, I’d argue, outweigh the banes.
International travel.  There are people who argue that travel has lost its romance, but having traveled internationally 30 years ago as well as today, I very much appreciate the fact that international travel has become almost as routine as domestic travel. A recent trip to China saw almost no delays getting through customs, and traveling to Europe is now utterly easy, as routine as going to New York City. There are wonderful sights to see around the world, and I, for one, am thrilled that it is now so easy, and relatively affordable, to wander the globe.

Burritos.  This makes my list for the pure and simple reason that Chipotle is my favorite fast food on the planet. If I was stuck on a desert island and could have one fast food only, this is my pick. Both tasty and healthy enough that you probably wouldn’t come down with scurvy or rickets from eating it for a year or two.

A totally random selection, but burritos in my youth didn’t hold a candle to these.

Locally brewed beer.  I’m not going to shamelessly tout any modern brand of Midwestern microbrews. Local beers—many dozens of them— have always been a part of Midwestern life in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but in the 1970s the options were truly evil concoctions with names like Ham’s, Schmidt’s and the worst of all, a foul swill named Fox Deluxe, which was guaranteed to send you to the bathroom with liquefied bowels within 30 minutes of imbibing.

Today’s local brews are truly great beers. No nostalgia for the malts of the past for this Geezer.

1 comment:

  1. As usual, you are right in all of your factual observations, Mercurious, but--as usual--your interpretation of what these facts reveal about us is, to say the least, overly sunny. First things first though:

    You are absolutely correct: material things give us options that none of us would ever have dreamed of years back. Add to your list programmable playlists for music playback. In the day, a malfunctioning record changer could make the difference between getting lucky and not (unless you were one of those who needed less than 20 minutes start to finish!)

    The key question your observations raise though is: are we proportionately more capable of appreciating and employing these powerful tools for our own betterment? I would argue that we lack the increased discipline and focus that would make these wonderful tools an unmitigated good. The internet is a thing of wonder, but are we better "editors" of input than we were back in the day? Cars make mobility a thing we assume: is it good that the average commute for Americans is 40 miles? Frozen pizza is, indeed, an entirely different experience: do we need late night snacks more or less than we used to (hint: are we more or less active through the day?)

    The world is--almost by any measure--a more providing place now than in years past (as a member of a family whose one "dinner out" every year consisted of a meal at the A&W Root Beer Stand in Duluth, I would dispute your contention that hamburgers have declined in quality.) And it's not just material goods; let's not forget the absence of a draft. The conflicts of the twentieth century gives a geezer great pause in pining away for the old days.

    I would argue that the grumpy geezer is not grumpy because the world isn't as good as it used to be; (s)he's grumpy because it sometimes seems that those who have been given so much (including this geezer himself, sometimes) fail to display the thankfulness, thoughtfulness and prudence that such gifts warrant.

    So ultimately, despite your analytical shortcomings, your essay is spot on: we can't appreciate, be thankful for and make the best possible use of something wonderful until we realize just how extraordinary it is. Your essay starts us on the road to such appreciation.

    The Professor