CSotD: Remembrance of Times Lost

In this Non Sequitur (AMS), Wiley Miller longs for the world before social media, and whether this would be a lame amusement park or the basis for culture war is open to debate. If it would be war, we could hope enough people would sit around whining about how lame it was that the shock troops of a slower world would gain significant ground.

But it’s not a bad mental exercise to tote up the things you’d miss and the things we’d be better off without.

I certainly don’t miss Foto Mat and several days waiting to see if photos came out, which I say after a couple of adventures which I thought were going well but had equipment failures — like a VP of British Petroleum I had just interviewed, or John and Yoko at an opening of an exhibit of her work.

I don’t think the world would be any poorer if we could still take a couple of photos and then check to see the lighting was right and that things were coming out well.

I’m not so sure about video stores. At least they got people off their duffs and out of the building.

But I certainly miss the days when honest, competent gatekeepers at honest, competent news outlets told us what we needed to know, while the Bat Baby and other deliberate falsehoods were confined to the checkout rack at the grocery store, and we’d shake our heads over the gullible ignoramuses who’d pick up a copy.

Little did we know those sleaze merchants would one day help elect a president.

As I’ve said here several times before, however, I think the biggest loss is in the increased portability of all these improvements. We’ve lost the ability to be alone, to amuse ourselves, to think for ourselves.

And to learn how to whistle through our fingers, but mostly to be able to go buy groceries without checking back home to make sure we’re getting the right brand, and to simply walk down the street without having to carry on a conversation with somebody, anybody, in order to feel connected and to chase away the scary silence.

It’s not just the Internet. Well before all that, transistor radios gave us the ability to avoid walking around thinking, but I lived outside their limited range, and, even after sunset, needed to string an antenna out my window to pick up any stations.

Which isn’t quite walking uphill in the snow both ways to school, but it’s a significant difference between then and now.


And another thing.

Today’s Edison Lee (KFS) is not only a funny riff on the difference between a burger set up by a professional videographer for a $30,000 commercial and one of two hundred burgers dished up on an assembly line by a 16-year-old on his first job.

It’s also a reminder of how McDonalds, Burger King and the rest have put local diners nearly out of business, just as surely as Wal-Mart killed local department stores and Rite Aid eliminated your friendly neighborhood pharmacist.

There was a time, O Best Beloved, when a family on vacation would spot a diner at lunchtime, and Dad would go have a look to make sure the place was clean and orderly before beckoning everyone in.

And what you’d get would, indeed, be a sizzling, juicy all-beef patty grilled to perfection and topped with fresh onion and lettuce on a toasted sesame bun, because the person who made it was a for-real cook who had just made an order of pork chops and was just about to fry some chicken and treated your order with the same care, making sure that the burger and the fries came out at the same time so they’d both be hot.

Today, we see those Golden Arches and are happy to have familiar food from a familiar source. It’s not that a Quarter Pounder is bad, despite how people dump on the brand.

It’s not bad.

But it isn’t good, either. And hamburgers once were.


Mind you, these aren’t the biggest losses in our current world. Nick Anderson (AMS) notes the ease with which we accept language that an intelligent person would never have stood for, once upon a time.

When the lies were still only spin, Stephen Colbert joked about “truthiness” at the White House Concubines Association’s self-congratulatory dinner, and the spinners were outraged but the rest of us laughed.

But then came “alternative facts,” with which the new Trump administration explained away their preposterous lies about the size of the crowd at the Inauguration and, unlike Colbert, they were dead serious. Over the next four years, Dear Leader proceeded to feed us 30,000 documented absurdies, lies and other false statements.

I’d be happy to go back to the Foto Mat if we could also go back to a time when being caught lying ended a political career.

Too late for either, and now, Anderson suggests, Putin is prepared to exploit our lack of critical evaluation. Clausewitz didn’t precisely say “War is a mere continuation of politics by other means,” but, then again, he’d have laughed at the claim that violence is simply “legitimate political discourse,” whether it occurred in the nation’s capitol building or on the steppes of Eastern Ukraine.

And to repeat something I’ve said before, you should re-read “Animal Farm,” not “1984.”

In “1984,” Orwell describes an established autocracy, while, in “Animal Farm,” he demonstrates how such a despotic dystopia can be established through the slow, steady drip, drip, drip of self-serving, ever more audacious lies.


I’m not a Luddite, simply nostalgic, and I like this xkcd take on Wordle. I’ve been playing the game for a while, though I don’t post my scores because who cares?

But I’m starting to lose interest. If you start with “ratio,” “irate” or “noise,” you’ve knocked off three vowels and a pair of the most common consonants, after which it’s like playing knock-knock jokes with a four-year-old: The answers are more random than logical, and you won’t come away knowing anything you didn’t know when you walked in.

Getting a little smarter every day seems like a worthy goal.

It used to be, anyway.


13 thoughts on “CSotD: Remembrance of Times Lost

  1. My three were “wrest”, “pilot”, and “numbs”. If those failed me, I’d add “caddy”.

    I say those *were* my first choices because I’ve recently forbidden myself from using those. Makes the game a bit more interesting again.

  2. The real benefit of the video store over streaming is the same as the benefit of the bookstore or library over online buying: browsing a lot of varied choices, not what an algorithm shows you, and being exposed to the choices without choosing to scroll. Plus the occasional joy of walking past something intriguing that introduces you to a whole new direction. (Discovered one of my favorite authors when I bent to tie my shoe in a bookstore and saw an intriguing title. Try that with an algorithm.)

  3. Video stores often had a better selection of classic films than Amazon or Netflix. (I’m thinking of joining Criterion)

    But the best part of them was the chance to play “You go ahead and choose. No, not that one. No, not that one. No, not that one” in front of strangers instead of on your couch at home.

  4. Good diners are still out there, especially in smaller towns. The traditional clue for spotting the good ones is a parking lot full of work trucks or police cars. My grandmother was known to say, “You can tell this is a good restaurant – there’s a lot of men here.”

  5. Mr. Peterson, check to see if your library has Kanopy, a free streaming service for library card holders. It has a decent selection of old movies, especially ones that have fallen off the curriculum in most Film 101 courses. Also in the mix are art films, foreign films, and the occasional WTH movie you wouldn’t expect to see on it (“Showgirls”, anyone?).

  6. I thought Sears, Montgomery Wards, and Macy’s put the local department stores out of business. Then they were put out of business (or nearly so) by Walmart.

    Chain drug stores have been around for at least sixty years. In my little town there were at least two or three chain drug stores, and one independent pharmacist. The chains have just gotten bigger.

    Chain hamburger joints are mediocre. But for every good independent diner or small restaurant, there were several really bad ones. At least that is my experience, and I have no reason to believe that the chains put the good independents out of business before the bad ones.

  7. A large part of the difference, Hank, is between chains and franchises, as well as between owned-and-operated stores and independent trade groups. Rexall Drugs, for instance, was an alliance of pharmacies, just as IGA was in groceries, in which the advantage to members was in purchasing power and promotion. I suppose they had some standards members were expected to uphold, but store owners remained independent.

    You’re likely right that Woolworths, Penneys, Kresges and the like put some general stores out of business, but my recollection is that actual department stores were able to compete successfully by being more closely attuned to local needs and by offering better service. Most towns of any size had at least one of these local emporiums.

    As for diners, good ones have done well against bad ones just by market competition, but I think the profit margins are such that having a couple of franchises added to the mix slices beyond the bone, the laugh being that these franchises — on a local basis — aren’t that profitable either, the big money being at Regional or Corporate HQ.

    But there’s no one cause of all this — the growth of automobiles, for instance, is critical to the growth of supermarkets and shopping malls, which could not survive in a world in which their customers had to walk to get there.

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