Better or Worse?

Simone & Daughter Dina

Simone & Daughter Dina

Recently my daughter Dina and I were talking about how some things had improved in our lifetimes and how some had gotten worse. Were things better in the “olden days” or today? So we made lists. Some changes are for the better – such as opportunities for women and some things have gotten worse – political discourse seems out of control. Some changes are more important than others, but it was fun to try to list them – major and minor both.

Simone: I love Google and the Internet! In my work as a librarian I specialized in computer information retrieval. People filled out search request forms and we had to find the information for them using an algorithm designed to give them as comprehensive a listing as possible and at the same time eliminating extraneous information. The end product was usually a bibliography, which is a list of sources. Sometimes it included a digest. Rarely was it a full-text result.

Google finds the actual information and seems to have an in-built intuition of what is wanted. We have designed it to reach beyond what we can do, as an extension to our senses and capabilities, just like a microscope or a telescope can look further and deeper. A caveat: We still have to assess the reliability of the source of information. Wikipedia itself warns us to sometimes look further. In general, though it’s two thumbs up for Google.

Dina: Women’s lives have been vastly improved by the development of the birth control pill, which gives women a lot of control over their own bodies and reduces unwanted pregnancies.

And look at the improvements in medicine including vaccinations. No longer are chicken pox, mumps, measles, and rubella (German measles) a normal part of childhood. Other conditions have been eradicated by the vaccines for Hepatitis A and B, shingles, pneumonia, and flu. Cancer is no longer an automatic death sentence.

Simone: But where have all the doctors gone? In my childhood the slightest ailment, a sore throat, an earache, caused a doctor to materialize. Equipped with a big smile and a black bag of miraculous cures, he would touch, probe and declare reassuringly that everything will be much better “tomorrow.” Now health care is a cumbersome bureaucracy. It takes a long time to get a doctor’s appointment. So instead you go to an emergency service where you are placed on a conveyor belt and moved from one station to another, with repeat questions and no real diagnosis. You also get a big bill afterwards. In France, doctors still make house calls at a modest price.

Dina: We both feel that one thing that has deteriorated is service! We are both bothered when work that used to be done by trained employees has now been turned over to us. The first thing to go was the gas station attendant. If you are in a hurry, nicely dressed, tired, ill or old, you are out of luck. How do “little old ladies” put gas in their cars?

In supermarkets, we still have a choice between regular check-out and “self-service” check-out.” How long will this choice last? Most of us do not know the code for Belgian endive.

Worse still are the airlines. No longer does the nice clerk behind the counter print out a boarding pass. You are now expected to do this yourself at a “self-service” computer even if you are holding a squirming two-year old, keeping track of all your luggage, or don’t know English.

Simone: There are several establishments I use often that have greatly reduced their services: The Post Office and the Banks have cut back on their employees. The result is empty service windows and long lines.
At the Public Library, you can now check in your books, pick up your holds and check out without any human interaction. I must admit that after an initial period of resentment I am now used to this but I miss the niceties of personal contact.
The telephone tree is an abomination the likes of which has seldom been seen. Its originator should be shot on sight without benefit of a trial. Who in their right senses would replace contact with a warm human voice with even a modicum of intelligence, by prearranged messages that have no relation to your information needed? It is a dehumanizing experience.

Dina and Simone: We both love email!

Simone: Let me end with a recollection from my childhood in Lebanon. It wasn’t considered a luxury at the time, but I certainly miss it now…Even though our family was not wealthy, we did not buy clothes in stores. Instead we had a seamstress who had our measurements. What we provided was material and patterns and she sewed clothes to our requirements, adjusting hems with pins while we pivoted this way and that. At the time, I longed for store-bought clothes not realizing that garments made to order would be a luxury some day.

What do you think? Which things were better during your childhood and which ones are better now?

A note from the Editor…Your comments on this blog are like a nourishing rain. You are encouraged to put in your two-cents worth. -ed.

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  1. Simone and Dina, almost all of your observations reflect my thoughts too.

    Additionally, one part of “yesterday’s” life that I miss is having extended family living close enough to see more often. I grew up with cousins and uncles and aunts who were a frequent part of my life. It felt cozy, and my cousins were so much fun to play with.

    My children have never had that kind of extended family.

    As for custom made clothes, I was the seamstress! We had sewing classes in school and it paid off! We even made lined suits!

  2. I am less enthusiastic in my support of emails. I fear they have already replaced face-to-face or voice-to-voice communication that is only slightly less convenient. The loss of that momentary human contact it’s something that I feel is unfortunate.
    Rob Rutman

  3. It would seem we are all wiser now with swift ascent of the electronic age. But I do miss the interaction and the face to face discourse with my fellow human beings. Perhaps Thomas Grey foretold the future in his lenghthy ode in 1742

    To each his sufferings: all are men,
    Condemn’d alike to groan—
    The tender for another’s pain,
    Th’ unfeeling for his own.
    Yet, ah! why should they know their fate,
    Since sorrow never comes too late,
    And happiness too swiftly flies?
    Thought would destroy their Paradise.
    No more;—where ignorance is bliss,
    ‘Tis folly to be wise.

  4. Libby. your comment reminded me that when our children were young, they played on the sidewalk with other children, biking, roller skating etc. Such spontaneous unstructured play does not seem to occur any more.

  5. Definitely, Simone, times have changed for children. Playing with friends is arranged by parents into “play dates.” Truthfully, I would probably do the same if my children were young now. I am not sure if the fear of free style playing is justified or not. But it is a very strong feeling for many of us. We were so lucky as children. Out the door and that was that! We would come back two hours later, having had the experience of being free as a bird!

  6. Love google, although the Worldbook Encyclopedia could answer bulk of reference questions.
    Miss the Doctor’s office that one can walk in in one’s own clothes, talk to the doctor first, and change into a gown later.

  7. I have been reading your blogs with great interest and experience all sorts of things that have improved – suitcases on wheels, e-mail, looking anything up in Google,etc. but so much got worse – Airplanes (the clerks for my Swiss airline are in South Africa and Fiji – in the Solano Ave. post office I had to wait 45 minutes because there was just one clerk and the customer in front of me had 145 little packages – there isn’t even a place to complain – oh well…

  8. I think sometimes when I travel about how much less I need to carry than I did even as a child. A single iphone is now the summoner of taxis, holder of all flight information, weather gauge, translator (sort of), restaurant finder, text communications tool, map, directions, and so much more!

    I do agree though that I don’t ever seen children playing outside. That might just be the time of day i’m driving around, but even as an introverted child I remember days at Dianthus running with the kids from around that area. I wonder if kids still do that anymore?

    I also think the world was better before facebook.

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