The Downside of Progress…The Upside of Simpler Times

In Family, Life on December 17, 2012 at 10:25 am


It was over 35 years ago on this date that my family and I moved to Long Island from Queens.  Although the people who bought the house from my parents have now lived there longer than we did, I will always consider it home.

I still remember my first day in the house.  We got there ahead of the movers, so there was no furniture in the house yet.  My siblings and I sat on the carpeted kitchen floor eating Hostess Cupcakes off of a small plastic outdoor patio table.  I was a bit nervous to go to a new school, particularly in the middle of the year, but I was excited about living in a nice house with a huge backyard.

Although starting in a new school is never easy, my first week was fun because it was the week before Christmas break.  Everyone was in high spirits, and the classwork was kept to a minimum because the school was in holiday mode.  It didn’t take long for me to start making friends, and by the time the break came around a week later, I was already playing outside with other kids in the neighborhood.

It was a long, cold winter that year, and though I had a lot of fun in the snow, I was happy for spring to arrive.  Before long, I was riding my bike down the block to go play sports with my friends, and playing little league baseball for the first time.  We didn’t need organized sports as much because we played on our own, but I enjoyed it just the same.

Our new house had a push button phone, a step-up from the rotary phone in our house in Queens.  Our family room had cable television, a step-up from the rabbit ears that we had in Queens.  Other than that, there was no other technology to make our lives “easier.”

When the phone rang, we all wanted to answer it, hoping that it was a call for us.  Today we use caller ID to properly direct the calls to the appropriate family member, or worse, to screen a call that you’re not in the mood to take.  The phone had a cord that kept you tethered nearby.  We didn’t have cordless phones, much less smartphones that are so addicting that you feel lost if the battery dies or you forget to bring it with you.

If we wanted to watch a particular television show, we made sure to be in front of the TV when it was on.  There was no DVR, much less on demand.  We had one shot to see the show, and if we missed it, the moment was gone.  Shows like The Wizard of Oz were special because they were only shown once each year, and it was usually an event that the family looked forward to sharing together.

There was no Internet.  If we wanted to know something, we had to go to the library to get the information.  We couldn’t just “Google it.”

We got our news from newspapers, television and radio from professional journalists who were more concerned with getting it right than being first, which nowadays leads to an incredible amount of misinformation spreading like wildfire.  We had the information that we needed not every graphic detail about a story because the news was about the highlights.  The 24/7 news cycle is probably the most detrimental “progress” that we have experienced in our lifetime, as it has done little to inform, but has contributed greatly to the divisive society that has engulfed America.

Social media has succeeded in connecting us to people who were once a part of our lives, but more importantly, it has failed us because it allows us to disconnect from actual face-to-face contact and phone conversations.  It has also become a place where bullying is very common, and it is not limited to kids in school.  Adults are equally as abusive to those who don’t agree with their point of view.  Before social media, we knew the views of those who we spoke to directly, but had no idea what our hundreds and hundreds of “friends” were thinking about any given subject.

In spite of all of the “progress” that we have made through technology, given the choice, I would gladly go back to the way life was when I was a kid.

Nostalgia has a funny way of removing the tarnish from every memory, leaving behind nothing by precious gems to be cherished, but I still wish that my children could experience the childhood that I had when things were simpler.

Was my life perfect?  Absolutely not!  But it was better for sure.

We were able to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without worrying that it might kill one of our classmates who has a deadly peanut allergy, undoubtedly a result of the “progress” that we’ve made in making less expensive, processed food.

We played organized sports, but didn’t rely on them to be our only source of exercise.  We rode our bikes to parks and played with friends until dark.

We didn’t live in a state of constant fear, and we certainly never thought about getting gunned down in school.

We couldn’t possibly have imagined what life would be like for our kids back then, but I can say now that I never would have expected life to be like this.

This date used to be a happy one for me to reflect back upon my childhood and my life on Long Island, but today it’s not.

Today, I walked my kids into their elementary school with hesitation.  A lady whom I’ve never met gave me a smile of support as she saw me hug and kiss my little one goodbye and watch her walk down the hall as I always do.  When my daughter was out of sight, she came over to me and introduced herself as the new superintendent.  She clearly saw the anguish on my face that I’ve been trying to hide all weekend since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.  She told me that she wants to build a fortress around the school.  I agreed that it would be a good idea.  We both had tears in our eyes.

When I left the building, I stopped to speak to the teacher aide from my daughter’s class.  My wife and I grew very fond of her last year when she volunteered to walk my daughter to her Kindergarten class every day because of her separation anxiety.  She didn’t know my daughter, but she saw a little girl in distress and wanted to help.  Needless to say, my wife and I were thrilled when we found out that she was going to be in my daughter’s classroom this year.

I asked her how she was doing and she told me that she spent the whole weekend crying.  She has been in this school for nearly 20 years, and she still thinks of each kid in her classroom as “her kids.”  We talked about how she and I sat next to each other building gingerbread houses on Friday while the unspeakable tragedy was being carried out in Newtown, CT.  We talked about the innocence of the kids in the class, all of whom are the same age as the kids who perished in Sandy Hook Elementary School.  She told me that she would gladly step in front of her kids and take a bullet to protect them, and I didn’t doubt what she said for a second.  I know that she would, but I wish that it wasn’t necessary to even discuss this hypothetical scenario.  We both had tears in our eyes as we said goodbye to each other this morning.

There’s something to be said for the simpler times I enjoyed.

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