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COMMENTARY

Yesterday’s luxuries are today’s necessities

Posted on September 13, 2021

OpinionColumns

Joe Weaver

Joe Weaver

A co-worker and I had a conversation about generations. I am older than he by about 20 years, and we often have conversations like this.

While he is of a different generation, some of his thoughts and ideas are more in line with generations before his. He’s well-read and intelligent, and I enjoy these talks with him. I like getting a different perspective from someone who doesn’t automatically dismiss me as a grumpy old man.

We had noticed something about generations that came after our respective generations and came to similar conclusions.

I’ve talked many times in this column about the instant gratification that is expected by today’s generation of younger people. You’re probably thinking this is going to be another one of those “get off my lawn” columns I write from time to time when someone irritates me and I give an excuse that it is because they are young and they don’t know any better when they should. This is different.

Look at your own generation. Some of us have similar stories to tell, even though there are generations separating us. A lot of us grew up in small towns where the hottest thing on a Friday night was a high school football game and meeting up at the drive-in for a milkshake after. That was the same for my generation as it was for my parents.

What I am getting at is that today’s young people, and those in the beginning stages of true adulthood when you have kids and buy a house and all that, have been born into convenience and luxury. They don’t really have to do anything we had to do.

They don’t know about waiting in line at the bank. They don’t know about going to a video store and picking out a movie. They don’t know about waiting for a pot of coffee to brew in the percolator on the stovetop.

The argument can be made about today’s necessities being yesterday’s luxuries. Ask someone who is 90 years old about television. I’m sure one or two folks of that vintage will admit to thinking it was a fad, or their parents thought it was a fad and nothing could have replaced the radio for entertainment.

Less than a generation later, televisions were in every home and some homes had more than one. Almost overnight, radio was not the foremost source of family entertainment, though it held on for many years after television came about. Television, once a scientific novelty, became a necessity. On Sunday nights, the world stopped for Ed Sullivan.

There was an older guy in our neighborhood when I was a kid who was some kind of electrical engineer and a real smart guy. He had one of the first microwave ovens. It was enormous and shiny with big knobs and a really thick door. I don’t remember if it had a light in it, though. It could cook food in just a few minutes. It was called a “Radarange” as if it was some kind of space-age wonder tool. It had cost a fortune when he got it and it was revolutionary.

Fifteen years later, microwaves would be almost commonplace and a few years after that, they were in every home and office in the country, Nowadays, you can get one for less than $50. It was the same with televisions. My family always had a 15- or 19-inch black-and-white set. A color TV was just too extravagant, not to mention a floor-model console.

At what point does a luxury become a necessity? Remember when the internet was new and scary, and now it’s considered a utility like the electric service?

Cellphones were rare and very expensive. Now everyone has what amounts to a  miniature computer in their pocket that makes phone calls. The home phone is a dinosaur these days. Truth be told, we still have one, though. Is there a specific timeframe where something new and revolutionary becomes old hat and common?

I wonder if any of the younger folks could cut out some of the “convenience” from their lives and live, perhaps, cheaper if they went back to the old ways. I’m not saying it would be better for them, just different.

Maybe they could see what we did before the internet, before GrubHub and PayPal. Maybe the stores and such should close on Sunday like they used to. Give it a week and see what happens.

I’m an old fogey, and I get angry when the internet goes out for a few minutes. Imagine what someone who knows only of an era with instant online access would do.

Maybe next time, I’ll dig the Smith Corona out of the closet and whip up the column the old way. I’ll type it up all nice and neat and mail it in a big envelope to the paper.

Who am I kidding? That’s too close to actual work.

Joe Weaver, a native of Baltimore, is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.

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