So mostly, time marching on is helpful- we learn more about how the world works and more about how we as humans work, and our lives get better. But lately, what seems like a very large amount of the advances made in science and industry have begun to have the opposite effect. Instead of learning how to do things better, we are learning how to have something else- some machine or some process- do it for us and forgetting how to do it ourselves. This lament for ways past is not a new one- every generation looks to the past as a more innocent or purer time. The good old days have been thirty to fifty years earlier for as far back as humans go, but this lament- my lament- is not so much a look at how much better the past was as a look at what we are losing. Go back two generations and nearly every grown woman knew how to cook a decent meal from scratch, go back a few more generations and that included making even those staples that we as modern consumers would never consider making ourselves like butter and bread and jams and pickles- unless we were doing it as a sort of a hobby. The same goes for skills every grown man had- how to construct and repair furniture, care for cars or horses and other essential skills.
Now, I’m not knocking the changes in our society that have allowed women to take on traditionally male professions or men to take on traditionally female responsibilities- there should be women who pursue medicine and law and automotive repair and there should be fathers who stay home to care for their children and go to the PTA meetings and make the family dinner all week- we need to share those things. But, business has taken advantage of social changes to supplant the common knowledge that used to be passed down from parents to children with convenience. Mothers and fathers stopped teaching their children how to make it themselves, how to repair it and, instead, taught them to buy it pre-made or throw the old one out and buy a new one because it is faster and sometimes- but not always- cheaper.
And, all right, it certainly saves time to use pre-made or to run to the store for a new one instead of spending time repairing the old one, but is it worth what we have lost? Is it a good thing that many in my generation have no clue how to bake anything that doesn’t come in a pre-mixed box or how to sew a button back on a blouse? Is it a good thing that many in my daughter’s generation may not know how to create school projects without the aid of a computer, may not have any clue how to find information in a physical dictionary or encyclopedia because they always work with computer programs with spell check and search capabilities? Is it a good thing that many in my son’s generation won’t be able to change their own oil or a flat tire? Certainly, these skills are recorded in how to books and/or are still practiced by hobbyist, but there seems to be something wrong with the idea that people can grow into men and women without knowledge that was once so basic to surviving just a few generations earlier.
So, what’s to be done about it? We can all try and learn a few of these types of things that we don’t already know and we can make an effort to give our children the opportunity to learn self reliance and basic skills that modern life doesn’t automatically teach them, but more than that, we should stop blindly following the model of consumerism set out by business for the benefit of business. That is to say, don’t buy a new one if you can fix the old, take the time to cook for yourself and your family once or twice a week- change your own oil with your daughter’s help, sew a ripped seam with the help of your son and take a little bit of what big business has taken from us back for your family and your community. The money saved and- more importantly- the experience and knowledge gained will more than make up for the extra time and inconvenience doing it yourself will cost.