Editor’s Note: We Americans have a warm spot for the past. The past is almost always described as being better than the present. The present is almost always described as something going down the drain or the toilet. I think it’s noteworthy that Donald Trump’s motto isn’t “Make America Great,” it’s “Make America Great Again.” One has to wonder at what he thinks America was at its greatest ... my guess would be it was a time before women could vote, and before the slaves were freed.


Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

 

My father passed away in 1974, and, if he came back to life, he’d be bewildered by the high-tech world of 2018. An “old-school” guy who saw World War II as the best years of his life, he’d tell you things were better during the “good old days.”

But he’d be wrong. During my lifetime, it’s been two steps forward (computers, cable TV, medicine, and civil, gay, animal and women’s rights) and one step back (evangelical Christianity, rap music, terrorism and the burgeoning crazy on the Right). On balance, life has improved much faster than it’s deteriorated.

For example, old guys love to say, “They don’t build cars like they used to.” They’re right; today’s cars are better. They require little maintenance and they start every morning, no matter how bad the weather. In the old days, I never had a car make it past 100,000 miles, and they all needed constant attention. My Toyota RAV-4 has been running great for 165,000 miles with barely any maintenance at all. And those “classic” cars are overrated: For every ’56 Corvette or ‘55 Thunderbird, there’s a ’59 Buick Electra or ‘59 Cadillac — ugly, finned monstrosities so gaudy a pimp would be embarrassed to own one.  

A classic car has nowhere to plug in an iPhone for its GPS. Ask yourself this: When was the last time you had to ask someone for directions or got lost driving somewhere? Pretty much every road in the country, paved or not, has been mapped. When I have my driveway plowed after it snows, it probably shows up in Google Maps. Meanwhile, this same iPhone provides thousands of songs for my listening pleasure wherever I’m going.  

Apple Inc. may be the greatest miracle of the 21st century. Not only has the iPhone obsoleted my iPod (which was the greatest musical advance since the piano), but the apps written for it are amazing — from filming video and identifying almost every song ever recorded just by sampling a few notes (Shazam), to finding the best moussaka within a 10-mile radius (Urban Spoon) and playing World of Warcraft.

Written communication has also greatly improved. You can text on your phone, expand it into an email, then print it out on paper and mail it as a letter in an envelope. Just don’t make it too long, or no one will look at it. Our president has made not reading great again, and fewer and fewer Americans will read anything longer than a couple of paragraphs. (The best place to hide something secret from a Millennial would be inside the pages of a library book.)

Admittedly, it’s a step back that you can be killed by drivers texting or talking on their phones. And you can be sued by sleazy, rapacious personal-injury lawyers who advertise (i.e., ambulance chase) on cable TV, just for running over a pedestrian who’s texting with his head down while crossing an intersection. (It’s debatable whether squashing one of those self-absorbed twits or one of their lawyers is a step back or forward.)

In the good old days, you had to get off the couch to manually click through seven grainy channels on a 19-inch, black-and-white TV that cost a small fortune. Today, you can choose from 300 channels on a reasonably priced, 60-inch UHD TV, using a remote control that does everything, including almost literally stopping time with its Pause button. I have seven remotes in my man cave, including one for my air conditioner, so I don’t work up a sweat, which would be counterproductive when I need to cool off.

When was the last time you stood in a long line in some bank’s rat maze, holding a check you needed to cash? The lines are gone, and you seldom need to go inside anymore, because you can do most banking online or with your ATM card. (Due to computerization, bank tellers will soon be joining blacksmiths and whale harpooners in the history books, to be followed closely by cab drivers and supermarket cashiers.)

And when was the last time you paid for film or for out-of-focus vacation prints? Digital cameras and iPhones have made film photography largely obsolete, and competent photographers take great pictures with their phones. I couldn’t take a decent photograph with a $48,000 Hasselblad DSLR and Ansel Adams whispering advice in my ear; however, I can at least delete the blurry photos in my phone without paying for them.

As we baby boomers head for nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, medical science is keeping us functioning longer and better. I wear hearing aids, orthotics and progressive trifocals. I also have a pacemaker in my chest and a defibrillator to keep my heart pumping. In many situations that had once been fatal, I can’t die, even if I want to — I’m like the Bionic Man, if the Bionic Man were old, burnt-out and decrepit.

There are drugs for nearly every ailment you can think of, plus many you’ve never heard of, which I suspect may have been “discovered” by drug companies just so they’d have more things to medicate. The step back with all these pharmaceuticals is the endless airing of TV commercials featuring their side effects — from cholesterol meds that may cause strokes or anal leakage to antidepressants that ironically pose the risk of depression and suicide.  

Some of us senior citizens are concerned about the side effects of the huge step back represented by the election of a fascistic, congenital liar as president in 2016. The greatness promised by his MAGA slogan has thus far been reminiscent of the good old days of the Nixon years, only worse. Absent a couple of steps forward (in 2018 and 2020), the degeneration of the presidency, combined with the fecklessness of a Republican Congress, will make it harder for future generations to ever refer to 2018 as the “good old days.”


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