It doesn’t take long to see people and things that are crying out for technology. People whose work and tasks could be made so much easier if they’d just succumb to what tech has to offer. There are those though that will refuse using ‘new-fangled’ devices and methods because they like the tried and true, the way things were, and the ‘by hand’ method. Ya know what? They’re not always wrong.
Humans have a developed a very bad habit of throwing out old ways and old methods as soon as there is a new way to do something, forgetting why we even did it the old way in the first place. Some things make sense – it just makes more sense to do things in certain ways like a word processor over a type writer as an off the cuff example. Or washing clothes in a machine as opposed to by hand. The list of things tech has helped with can go on and on, and should, because it is a way that we have culturally evolved yet…there are reasons we do things ‘the old way’ and we are forgetting that.
Having someone pump your gas and bag your groceries was about more than just a convenient service it was about the whole experience. It gives you a bit of humanity and connection and makes it personal. Whether we looked at those positions this way or not but those people were ‘experts’ at what they did and they knew how to bag and how to check your fluids and top off your tank. Neither are things we can’t do but these were services that kept us social and that’s important. Humans are social animals and we need to be and the more tech we develop that pushes us deeper into ourselves the more we need reasons to reach out. We are cutting jobs and services and making ourselves nomads. Which is not to say that the world needs gas attendants and baggers but that we need to remember that we are cutting a LOT of these smaller jobs out completely and while those folks can work elsewhere in that system this is one less thing they can do to make a living and one less reason for us to interact. We don’t NEED a lot of services but those services keep the humanity in the process.
We are tactile creatures and the memories we make come when all of our senses are engaged. We are moving towards a future where our interactions, our memories, and our entertainment will all be digital and our senses won’t all be part of those moments.
We need physical stimulus.
We need interaction.
We need each other.
There’s a rush to move away from video stores and book stores and I can see why. It’s easier and faster to just get something digitally now but we’re losing something vital – connection. The trouble with streaming movies is that it’s all done with little thought, it’s all impulse and spur of the moment. ‘Oh, I guess that sounds ‘OK’’. Sure, there are things that had targeted but most things we stream we watch because they are there and then stop watching if they don’t call to us. There was something very deliberate about hitting a video store (and I mean a store since Red Box and the others aren’t really the same thing) and browsing, taking in the art, reading the film synopses and really CHOOSING a film. And when you went to the video store it put you in a mindset – this is movie night. We were making time to WATCH A MOVIE. You are making a date with yourself, with your significant other, your friends, your family, with whom or whatever and you are making a date to watch something that YOU felt drawn to. And that creates a ritual and – dun DUN – MEMORIES! I still have fond memories of sitting with my family and renting movies, or of going to the video store and discovering a film for the first time. All of this can happen digitally, sure, but the ritual is different in the very least.
Ritual and discovery are also key when you talk about books. A book is a book whether it’s digital or physical, same goes for music and movies and all ART but in saying that there is a difference. There is THE art of that art that is different. With a book there is a LOT of design that goes into the book – cover art, book layout, chapter layout, intro, outro, thank you, author photo, description, and so much more – that is all done with exacting deliberation which doesn’t always translate to the digital form. You get the story but not the art. Then there is the book store, the chapel to the written word. It is truly a place of discovery and comfort where you can go and discover what is out there. And again, you can do that online but it’s so DIFFERENT much like digital books are different. We can download a hundred digital books without a thought but how many of those will we really read? But with physical books there is more investment, in space, in time, and in cost, that it prods us to get around to it. There is comfort in the physical book because it reminds us of the intimacy of reading, of discovery, and the stories we hold so dear.
We CAN do it all digitally but we don’t HAVE to.
There are stores, are services, are THINGS that we gleefully leave behind as we catapult into the future never realizing that to some degree we CAN have it both ways. Yes, things are changing; the physical medium of things is disappearing but not all of it and not all of it at once. We don’t have to abandon everything. There is value in nostalgia because it means something, it IS something – it’s US. It’s our past. We never want to wallow in nostalgia, in the past, but you also can’t act as if it was a burden and this mechanical future is all there is. The digital can be easily erased, sometimes a good thing…sometimes not so much. The physical takes deliberate action to obliterate.
What I say, what I ask is that you not forget why you love things. Not forget why you are attached to things. And don’t forget that we are tactile, PRESENT beings and that it’s our presence and our senses and our emotions that make us what we are and show us what we can yet be some day. The past doesn’t have to be buried like a burden, it doesn’t have to be exalted as a the ‘good old days’ but it can be cherished and appreciated for what it is, what it was, and what it still shows us about ourselves.
Not everything is sustainable. Not every business can be made to be successful. Some things we do just move beyond. But some things are worth fighting for, some things are worth building around, and some things still have an audience. The quaint term is to call anything that niche ’boutique’ but the fact is that if there were well run and maintained video stores, record/music stores, book stores, full service gas stations, grocery stores, on and on, there would be people there to support it. Some things can’t be saved but some can if it has the right ownership and leadership. If the people involved understand and appreciate what they have and what they can do. The obsession is to franchise, to branch out, to have a thousand stores and sure, that’s where the big money CAN be but the solid money is behind a well run and maintained business that listens to the needs of the public and the desires of its clientele and adapts to best meet those needs and desires. The past is all around us, is part of us – it isn’t nostalgia but is part of the fabric of Man and yet we try to ignore and deny it. We burn it to the ground thinking it will be gone forever and we can re-write history. Only every generation wants to erase the past generation and it’s madness. There is a reason that re-sale and used stores are thriving – because so many of us are hurting for money and can’t buy the newest, brightest, shiniest thing out there and the things of the recent past are sometimes good enough. In our quest for newness we are leaving ourselves behind.
Take that moment and think on the things that you love and loved and remember why. Remember those memories. And let’s stop trying to bury the past, its businesses, its technology, its meaning, because even in the mistakes of the past there are lessons, and even in the most outdated of things there are memories waiting to be re-awakened. This is not just about sentimentality but connection and that connection is vital to carving a path to the future. And ya know what, new technology or not some things were better in the past.