Confessions of a modern anachronism

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anachronism: a thing belonging to a time other than the one in which it exists

I’ve been reminded recently of an episode of the original Twilight Zone (“Once Upon a Time”), where a man from 1890 is transported by time machine to 1960, a jump of 70 years into the future. The man, played by Buster Keaton, is horrified by the incessant noise and dizzying pace of life in his new surroundings. He simply cannot tolerate it. I’m beginning to know how he feels.

While our hapless time traveler’s jarring experience is largely the result of a sudden and drastic change to his circumstances, this same process happens to all of us – just much more insidiously, like a steady drip to the forehead. The world changes slowly around us, and these changes reach a point when, just like our Twilight Zone friend, we find ourselves in an environment where we really don’t belong.  The older we get, the more we resent having to continually adapt to things and situations to which we are not accustomed, and for which we don’t much care. We want things to be the way they’ve always been – the way we liked them – but they refuse to remain so. The next generation comes along with their own ideas and ways of doing things (most notably in music, fashion, social discourse), and we find ourselves slowly becoming frustrated and obsolete.

One of the most pervasive examples of this is in the workplace. The expectations on the “modern” worker have become ridiculous. Most of us used to work at jobs that were much more specialized and focused, but now find ourselves wearing the hats of several workers and pulled in so many different directions that we can’t adequately focus on any of them. Everything must be done half-assed and under duress. There is no longer enjoyment in anything, just a constant struggle to not fall too far  behind. Multitasking and “doing more with less” (and for less) has reached a point where the worker of today is expected to match the productivity that used to be generated by two or more workers just a decade ago. Positions are eliminated (or slyly redefined) and hours are cut, and those remaining are expected to quietly pick up the slack, with fewer perks and benefits than those they’re replacing enjoyed (pensions? ha!). This is called “progress,” but for whom? The result is a workplace full of stressed-out and demoralized people – especially the older ones, those who know that it used to be so much better. The young ones are deliciously oblivious, and are therefore highly favored by Corporate America. They won’t complain, because they don’t know things used to be better. This is the true basis of age discrimination. The mature workers (who, by the way, usually have a better work ethic than their younger counterparts) know too much for their own good, and if you try to pull the wool over their eyes, they’ll likely speak up (disengaged complainers!) Can’t let that happen, lest the young workers be empowered and the revolution begin.

There is a certain pace and rhythm to life that we become used to by our twenties, and this pace seems to be constantly accelerating. We all remember our grandparents talking about much simpler (and presumably less stressful) times, when life was slower and people had more consideration for each other, better manners, and more patience. Just imagine, people used to actually make an effort to merge onto the highway, whereas now they just barrel on and expect that you’ll get the hell out of their way. It’s all about me! Once, people would never be so rude as to chat with their companion in line while a clerk was waiting on them, but today they jabber on their cell phone during the entire transaction like you’re not even there. Yeah, you have a nice day, too, pal!

As the pace of life gets more hectic and stressful, consideration for others declines because we’re all becoming more self-absorbed, frantically pursuing a happiness that eludes us. What we really need is a break, a slow-down – meaningful chill time that is not constantly intruded upon by the demands of work, social media or our ubiquitous smartphones. I think many have forgotten how to live “off the grid,” how to just be – or perhaps the latest generation has never really experienced this. Read a book, for god’s sake! Does anyone do that anymore? (too unproductive!) We’re like hamsters who don’t know how to get off the exercise wheel. Most days at work, I feel like one of those old ’70s stage performers who tried to keep a bunch of plates on a stick spinning before they all fell to the ground.

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By the time we hit “middle-age,” we’re adrift in a world where we just don’t fit, like our time traveler. It is run by others now, others who are willing (or rather, forced) to live at a pace and with customs that we find quite disagreeable and out of step with our natural inclination. 

Maybe this is as it should be. Maybe, if we’re lucky enough to live to a ripe old age, it makes leaving this world easier, because we no longer admire or respect it. Our gig is up. Good riddance! I hope they bury me upside down so . . . well, you know the rest. Time to make way for the new, just as our eventually disillusioned grandparents made way for us. So I needn’t bemoan my eventual demise, because I know I’ll increasingly dislike the future. It’s not really for me. And this, stressed-out reader, is why the older you get, the more you’ll reminisce about the good old days. Now put down your smartphone and go read a good book set in the past – preferably the three-dimensional kind.*

*Might I recommend Wally Lamb’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’.” It’s not terribly long for you easily-distracted types, and it’s absolutely hilarious. (Personally, I’m currently working my way through “War and Peace.” I’m ready, and it immerses me in a simpler time and place in the past, one of the greatest benefits of reading. But the current generation will just watch the movie. It’s quicker).

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Road kill

Roadkill really bothers me, especially when it’s a squirrel like the one I just saw. I like squirrels. They’re cute and playful and fun to watch. Yes, they also get into my birdseed and bury nuts in my flowerbeds, but I forgive them their natural instincts. Lying in the road injured and half dead as unsympathetic cars hurry by is an apt metaphor for the often hectic pace of modern life. We are overtaxed and overburdened, so we needfully filter out some “unessentials.” Of course, the list of what is unessential continues to grow. While I don’t expect motorists to stop their cars and nurse an injured squirrel, I wonder how many of them at least felt some sympathy for its plight?

I saw a scene on The Waltons a few weeks back wherein Elizabeth finds a bird that has fallen from its nest and goes to the trouble of putting it back (apparently, it’s not true that the parents will reject it – unless it is injured.

Nature is often practical if not cruel). Were Elizabeth living in today’s world, she would likely be too busy texting as she scurried along Walton’s Mountain, oblivious to her surroundings and the stupid bird. I know, times have changed and I’m starting to sound my age, but I do often wish life were simpler. As much as I love some aspects of modern technology (I’m sitting outside – in nature – typing this on my laptop), there has to be some balance (for me, this is partially accomplished by not subscribing to cable or broadcast television. Excess hours I’d be tempted to lazily squander on silly reality shows are spent reading instead).

Many things in nature are short-lived (except trees), at least from a human perspective. But time is a human illusion, and perhaps nature is not as cruel and careless as it can sometimes seem. Nature does continually renew itself, and many more squirrels will come along to replace my dead friend (we could say this of humans, too, of course). But it reminds me of the story about a boy and his father walking along the beach amongst hundreds of stranded starfish that had washed ashore. As the boy picked one up to toss it back in the water, the father laughed and told him he couldn’t possibly put a dent in the situation and make much of a difference. The boy, pointing to his starfish, said “It makes a difference to this one.”

Make a difference.