Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The times, they are a-changin'

It first hit home when Older Daughter was about six years old.

We had an errand to a stationary store (this was back when we lived in Oregon) run by an older gentleman. The front of the store, including the windows facing the street, was a sort of museum to office supplies over the last few decades – oak filing cabinets, vintage paper embossers, century-old typewriters, wooden desk sets, that kind of thing. We were passing through this room when Older Daughter pointed at something and asked, “What’s that?”

“That” was an IBM Selectric II typewriter, the classic workhorse of electric typewriters, the kind of typewriter every secretary in America once had (myself included) because it worked so beautifully.

And I suddenly realized Older Daughter, at the tender age of six, had never seen a typewriter.

In other words, the world was changing.

A couple of weeks ago Don and I had a conversation along those lines. Five hundred years ago, things were passed from father to son to grandson – or mother to daughter to granddaughter – and the items were still as useful and functional as they were upon first ownership. Tools didn’t change that fast. Techniques didn’t change that fast. An improvement in a tool or technique might come at a pace of a few during a lifetime.

Now they come at a pace of a few per week. I realize this sounds like the classic generation gap lament of someone for whom the world is passing by too quickly, but unquestionably the world of tools and technology and techniques is vastly different for today’s youth than when I was younger. And the change is happening so fast that young people profess to be bored within moments. “[C]onsumers admit to already being impatient for the next big thing. The honeymoon period for a new gadget is four months, with users confessing that boredom sets in beyond that," notes an article on "smart homes." "[A] quarter of consumers claimed they were bored within just four weeks, eager to upgrade as their friends and colleagues got newer phones.”

The irony of typing this rant on a laptop while posting it to a blog doesn’t escape me. But I learned to type back in 1976 on a manual typewriter, where I excelled in my class by quickly achieving a dazzling 35 words per minute. When I discovered an electric typewriter, where keys did not have to be punched so hard and the manual keys wouldn’t clump up as they struck the page (remember that?), then my speed soared to 110 words per minute. My girls have never used a manual typewriter (except once or twice in a hands-on museum) and, except for that one time in the stationary store, have never seen an electric typewriter.

Nor can they conceive of life before the internet. Literally, it’s unfathomable for them. And once a neighbor boy, when he was about twelve, asked Younger Daughter, “What’s film?” when she mentioned a camera. What kind of technology is in store just within the next ten years? And – here’s the big question – will this technology make life better?

That's the most disturbing and puzzling question. These days, young people are frighteningly savvy about electronics. But are they smarter? Wiser? Better read? More observant? More intelligent? Kinder? Can they "do" for themselves, or do they need an "app" for everything?

There’s no question modern marvels are just that, marvelous. I love my laptop. I adore my digital pocket camera. I’m just as enamored of the internet as the next person.

Yet I wanted to raise our children learning old-fashioned values. The love of God, the love of spouse, the ethics of hard work, the value of honesty… these are things that transcend technology and are timeless. In a modern world, we desperately need those antiquated truths.

We also wanted to limit their exposure to the “new” before they’d had a chance to experience the “old.” We never got television reception because we wanted the kids to develop an imagination. We never got smart phones because we didn’t think they were necessary for everyday living, and we didn’t want a couple of zombie kids staring at a tiny screen while they walked into walls and off cliffs. (Don and I each have a basic cell phone, which is only turned on if we’re traveling.) A couple of years ago, the girls earned enough money to purchase their own laptops and now enjoy the wonders of the internet, but at least we were able to stave off the slavish devotion to computer screens through their childhood when brain development is so crucial. And we have instilled in both girls a passionate love of books. (Not ebooks – books.)

And whether they claim to like it or not, our girls at least know where their food comes from. They’ve watched cows give birth and steers get butchered. They’ve watered the garden and gathered berries and dug potatoes. They’d raised chicks and collected eggs. They know how to heat with wood and cook from scratch.

The world may develop shinier new stuff, but it can never take away the wonders of baby calves or the elemental necessity of processing meat on the hoof. There isn’t an “app” for that, thank God.

In many respects, I miss the old days. I wonder if the girls will too, someday.


  1. I suspect that soon - very soon - all of the latest gadgets and toys will be moot.

    For years I ahev been warning people how fragile the grid is, and how Iran (and now N Korea) have been saber-rattling and making threats about taking us down with a high-altitude nuke. Not to forget that Our Mr. Sun could blast us with a coronal mass expulsion at any time.

    Why, just last week one of my favorite columnists expressed this very opinion on World Net Daily. :)

    I have done what I can to prepare, urged my own children to do so, and have nagged anyone who will listen to do the same. Unfortunately, prepping isn't as interesting to most as golf, vacations, or "Dancing with the Stars."

    Steve Herr

  2. Patrice,

    I loved this post. As a 32 year old, I have seen lots of changes in my short life. Teaching high school students who are almost half my age sometimes makes me feel ancient. I love technology, but am scared for the upcoming youth who will "just look it up"(because we all know the first site you click on is 100% accurate; Wikipedia is NEVER wrong). Some can't carry on a conversation and have no clue how to ask engaging questions. Instead of looking up information on their phones, they are texting each other. I've had more kids struggling in class since we "adopted" free use of technology than I had when we banned cell phones in school two years ago. Students are less engaged and more worried about the fake social lives they have online.

    Last summer, I nannied for a VP of an international corporation on my break. The twin girls were going into the 7th grade. Having just gone blueberry picking I thought it would be fun to make blueberry muffins. Once I got done convincing them that they could in fact go an just pick blueberries from a bush at a farm, we proceeded to look for the basic supplies muffins need. When I asked them where their mom kept the flour, they pulled out a boxed mix asking if this was what I had meant. We quickly discovered they didn't have the few supplies needed to make the muffins. The next day, I brought all the supplies with me. The girls had more fun making muffins than they did anything else we did that summer. They asked me to bring supplies to make cookies the next week. I told them they should ask their mom or dad to cook with them since they enjoyed it so much. I doubt the parents ever took the time. It's sad to see kids missing out on such great learning experiences and bonding with parents who just want to make more money to buy more things. All these kids wanted was someone to spend time with them!!! Technology let the mom work from home on occasion, but she was locked in her office and would yell at the kids to "be quiet." I hope to be blessed with children and raise them with the "old fashioned" values you and I seem to share.

    Thanks for all the great posts you've made time for over the years.

  3. One of your best posts, Patrice.

    ". These days, young people are frighteningly savvy about electronics. But are they smarter? Wiser? Better read? More observant? More intelligent? Kinder? Can they "do" for themselves, or do they need an "app" for everything?"

    It's been my observation that too many kids and young people today think being tech-savvy equates to being all those things and more. I cringe to think what will happen when the power goes off.

    A. McSp

  4. My daughter just graduated from college In early childhood
    development. She learned that by the age of 5 the brain is set
    for vocabulary words. If they learnd in blocks of lets say 500
    words that is all that they will learn in there life time. But if they
    learn in blocks of say like 1,000 to 2.000 words by the age of five
    they will continue to learn in that large amount. I am not sure if there is a limit. I just put a limit on it fore examples. to try to make
    myself clearer.

  5. another aspect in this is that back in the good old days tools were made by craftsmen and were made to last, some were nearly works of art. Beautiful to have and hold, Charished for their looks as well as functionality. The wood working tools available today are trash at best. They have built in obsolecense. They are a sheer waist of money.

  6. Here! Here! Although my daughters and son are very technically savvy (all have ipads and iphones) they also know how to butcher a cow or chicken, raise chickens for eggs, make soap, grow vegetables, can garden produce, wash laundry with wringer washer, etc. It is very important that parents understand the great responsibility to raise self-sufficient children. Thank you for setting a good example and for posting this blog page to teach all of us how to do these things. Rebekah

  7. North Korea makes noise every now and then to get the USofA and other countries to give them money and relief supplies in exchange for promises of not making trouble or not improving their nuke program. It is all a sham to keep the Kim Jong family and associates in power and to give the West a boogeyman to use.

    I visit South Korea all the time. The South Koreans tell you that the North can resume the war at any time and that Seoul will be overrun. These Koreans will smile, laugh and tell you that the North will be out of fuel, ammunition and most importantly food. Then they will really laugh and comment that there will be one Korea and it won't be communist. Additionally, earlier in the month, China warned North Korea that they would not have chaos on their door step. China also has plans for North Korean refugee camps should the North ignore their warnings and start fighting again. The North really is not a threat.

    On the other points, it is good to be well rounded and to be educated in many fields. No matter what happens in the future, it is good to be a Renaissance Man (Not like in a stupid movie but in the classical meaning).


  8. When the power goes off .. no apps. Perceived knowledge will vanish. Books, books, books!

  9. Remember this ?
    When you wanted to center a sentence, you had to count the letters and spaces in the sentence. Then you had to space or tab to the middle of the page, and then hit backspace a number of times equal to half of the number of letters in the sentence.

    - Charlie

    1. OMG. I DO remember that.

      Just Me

    2. I remember that, too! I also remember my lush typing teacher, who would sit at her desk, sipping something that wasn't coffee from her mug, and dozing off while we practiced for our test. The less honorable students would go peek at her papers to see what the test paragraph was going to be and type it up while she slept. Then, during test time, they would just type whatever gibberish and then turn in the already finished copy. She never caught on, even though she did stagger around the classroom during test time. Ah, the days of public school...(my experiences are why I homeschool my children).

  10. Just attended a rare 3-generation family get-together. Several travelled thousands of miles to get together. What was the younger generation glued to? You know the answer to that.
    They people are completely addicted to their gadgets. They are sick. It is no wonder that they build nothing but debt.

    This get-together may well be the last before the patriarch and matriarch pass on. It was an extraordinary opportunity squandered. America is very sick...
    Montana Guy

  11. The technology-dependent culture of new shiny gadgets is really just a very strong application of the push to consumerism and planned obsolesence. The reason people become bored so quickly with new stuff is that they have bought - not the gadget - but the idea that buying is a form of entertainment, and that value/engagement/interest comes from something outside yourself rather than from what you can do. It's a whole system of thought (or not-thought).
    I'm sure I've recommended this before, but Dorothy Sayers' thoughts on "The Other Six Deadly Sins" are very apropos, particularly Sloth (Though Gluttony and Avarice are also quite on point). There's a blog up with much of the text available here:

  12. I so agree with you Patrice and I love the picture of Don reading to the girls on the couch. Priceless.

  13. " Tudor Monastery Farm is a British factual television series that first broadcast on BBC Two on 13 November 2013. The series stars archaeologists Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold, and historian Ruth Goodman. The team discover what farming was like during the Tudor period at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum."

    The Tudor period is the period between 1485 and 1603 in England and Wales. It coincides with the rule of the Tudor dynasty in England whose first monarch was Henry VII (1457–1509). In terms of the entire century, Guy (1988) argues that "England was economically healthier, more expansive, and more optimistic under the Tudors" than at any time in a thousand years." (Wikipedia)

    My husband and I found this series as well as the other BBC "farm" series to be very information and entertaining.

    Have Fun!

  14. Yes, Charlie, I remember that too. Patrice, I am 51 and at my first secretarial job, I had a typewriter that I had to press the keys down pretty hard. Then the next job, I had an electric Brother typewriteer, eventually to a word processer and now this laptop. Like you and many of your readers, I've also seen many technological changes/advances and they are all good. I love email, and googling, blogs like yours, etc. But nowadays, children and most young adults don't have common sense, are rude and don't know how to speak or write English correctly. They are clueless about sentence structure, etc. It's refreshing that a handful of people like yourself and Don took the time to read to your daughters and not have a TV for them, etc. That's awesome and I know your daughters are going to be wonderful, God-fearing wives and mothers. You and Don, I'm sure, are very proud parents. Yay for hardcover books; even thought I have a Kindle Fire...but I do love and can appreciate a wall full of great books. You and your family are in my daily prayers. Keep blogging and take care. Love, hugs and many blessings your way, Alicia (east Texas)

  15. Great article. I would like to add...that I have a portable typewriter on hand for a no-electricity, or grid down situation. They are given away or can be bought at thrift stores for next to nothing as no one wants them. Great thing to have on hand. And my grandkids like to type on them too. But it's a little hard to take that my life is now a living history lesson!