Wednesday, June 10, 2009

10 June 1955 “A Disaster of Speed, Planned Obsolescence, and Waste Not Want Not”

Tomorrow, 11 June 1955, there will be the worst to date (even now) accident in terms of the human toll in motorsports. At the Lemans race a racing car involved in an accident flew into the crowd, killing the driver (Pierre Levegh) and 80 spectators.
This disaster sort of hit a note with me today concerning what I wanted to talk about, that being thrift and conserve etc. It makes me wonder, why do we need to go faster?
Certainly, at breakneck speeds, what do we accomplish except waste of gas and possible injury? Why do we need, in certain areas, to increase and always grow and make new and therefore need to keep buying. Think of cell phones: do you recall a time when you bought a phone for you home and really, unless you wanted to change the color, you just kept it? Now, we must have faster, more gadgets, smaller, new colors the latest in our phones. I have tried to keep a cell phone, but the blasted thing inevitably breaks down: Designed and PLANNED Obsolescence!
We certainly want to get to a hospital quickly if we are in need of aid, but do we need to drive everywhere quickly? Does our need to be faster only increase the things we need to do out of the home and then lead to our being more harried and rushed?
1910 buick I am sure this car is an old bone shaker, but can you imagine if we still used this conveyance how we would conserve our trips and, save our speed and gas, and certainly enjoy our time more, as we would have not as much expectation to be everywhere so quickly. I am sure to see the children in the back sitting willy nilly, our first response is to gasp, but honestly even their safety is less in question if you are traveling 25 mph tops and others are doing the same.
I now I am being extreme, but it is to make a point. There is so much of the modern world that we just assume Has to be. But really it is only because we all, collectively, buy into it. Would cell phones have grown and become what they are if only a few people bought them? They are nice to have in emergencies, but how did we fare before them? What did soccer moms do before there were cars to take children to things? Did they do more near home? Did their children have more freedom to walk or bike to places? Were they expected to be more ‘grown up’ earlier and be at home helping cook and clean and work around the house? I wonder.
Again, I am not playing the ‘World was better than’ look through rose-colored glasses game. I am merely putting the idea out there. What was better then? What is better now? Why do we blindly accept every new thing as a fact and feel the need to go out and buy it. Planned Obsolescence. And, we buy into it.
1950s family watching tv Were VHS tapes not good enough? Certainly the quality was not what is is with blue ray DVD, but did it matter? Does it affect the quality of the experience? Does it become more about how clean and great explosions and special affects Look  as done by computers, or is it about the quality of the story? Is a story, now, only good if it has amazing special affects? If the story were told without them, would it hold up? Why do we need more and more? How are we, now, different from those one hundred years ago in our needs? Are we different, or are we more demanding?
Certainly, many things have improved, but are we more servants now to consumerism and want and entertainment for all of it? Surely, with our technology, we should have the choice and power to choose how to live our life and have more ease than ever before in history. And yet I see that we all just blindly follow trends and lead ourselves into debt and trouble for want of new toys.
An example of the expectations of one generation to another, in my 1948 “Woman's Home Companion” Household Book, there is a section( with detailed descriptions) on how to upholster an overstuffed chair. It takes you down to the frame, has you hammer on webbing and refasten and coil springs; Not toss it out and go to Wal-Mart and buy something that will fall apart in two months, then toss that on the increasing garbage piles. It assumes you will take apart what you have or what you have got from someone, and redo it. A level of personal expertise that no modern book would expect of a modern person, buy why?
Are we more helpless or less clever than past generations? Certainly we know more, we think, so how could it be hard for us to try? But, that is just it: It is hard, at first. It is a challenge, and why try? Why not just go buy the thing, it’s only 50 dollars to get a cheap chair, but really why not save the money?
woman with check In the money management section of that very same book, there are some interesting figures. It goes into great detail breaking down each of these, and I will list them if there is any interest in it, but here is the rough break down of expenditures.
Shelter 20-25%
Food 35%
Clothing 10%
Operating Expenses 10-15%
Savings 12 1/2 %
Personal Comfort 10%
Then, I found this paragraph interesting under Installment Buying
It is always preferable to pay cash for anything bought in a retail store, since otherwise the credit must be paid for also. It might be wise to find out how much installment payments would cost and to put aside that amount each month until there is enough to pay cash. This, incidentally, is a good way of determining just how much can be saved by cash payment, because the number of installments put aside will be fewer than the number which would otherwise have been paid to a dealer.”
There is much good knowledge in this old book. Many things, myself, I am still struggling to get right. And yet, never has anyone taken the good sense to just sit down and talk of such things. I know of many people who just spend without budget or concern. It is the norm, at least it seems so to me.
After yesterdays ‘green’ discussion mixed with what I have been considering today, I really feel like we have moved away from practical learning and doing. Parks are great for recreation, but we also need land to grow our food. The way we now live, it is as if we think food just magically comes into our life or that it is manufactured, when in fact the grain even in wonderbread had to be grown somewhere. The meat neatly packaged at the super market had to be fed and raised.
Here on the cape we have had all our train tracks ripped out in the 1990s and replaced with paved paths for leisure bike rides. At first it seems a good idea, benefitting health, but how often do the majority of people use it? My hubby and I once took advantage of it when we lived without cars and bikes were our main source of travel, but really to make paths for an odd Sunday's  day off outing? Think of all the travel that could be done from town to town and off cape for less using less energy had the tracks been left and the trains allowed to run. B
The ideas of parks as places to sit on grass (or not sit on the grass as some signs say) why not land for locals or townsfolk to use to grow local food or spots to graze small animals such as goats etc. I know there is some of this beginning, at least with growing our own food, but I really began to think about how we use and live in our towns and cities now. How we have slowly let the actual making/growing/craft and skill move out of our towns cities and countries, until we are really importing so much of what we use. It is as if we are turning our whole country into a bedroom community. Certainly,It would seem ‘icky’ to have the smell and the mess of animals in common area or places where they are forbidden, but if we were expected to clear up as much as hygienically possible, then who cares. The Boston Common once was a pasture for grazing cows. Surely, that would seem odd today, but why not a section where there could be some local animals raised for food and milk and eggs for people. We certainly have enough homeless who need food and there are many who would like to buy local.  How have we become squeamish prissy individuals that don’t like the smell of animals, or to know how the food gets on our plate?
Certainly I am not saying everyone should be farmers, but there used to be a middle ground between a large farmer and just a dwelling consumer. Now the majority of us merely buy our manufactured foods and products unaware of where they originated. But why do we do this?
I really think, if the buy local and green concept is going to really do any good and follow itself to good roots, such concepts as how we now use our shared space and land where strip mall after strip mall goes up, will come into question. Honestly, how many places do we need to buy jeans and house wares? What if 1/4 of that land was used to farm and grow, even if it were a business. A plot of land where others might rent a space to keep goats for milk or chickens for eggs and then they can sell some back to the community to make money and those who buy would support their neighbors. I know it sounds odd or severe, but when and will we ever really be a country that can rely upon ourselves. I understand the need for a global economy, but isn’t it more realistic to work within our own borders first, for if others stop trade then what would we do? I even understand that some farmers are actually paid not to farm? How can this be?
Here in American it sees as if we have slowly pushed out the actual making and manufacturing of our products to other countries and removed the practical from our schools. Certainly it is important to know Shakespeare and learn to use a computer, but to also know how to cook , balance a check book, build a chair and fix a car, these are important skills as well. Unless you are in an exclusive private school where the students are most likely to end up in a situation where all these type of things can be done for them, such actual knowledge should be des rigueur for our younger generations and ourselves, I might add.
Some where along the way( it seems to have happened after WWII) we have moved from the practical towards unskilled masses wanting to be always entertained.

When you really think about the hours spent at entertainment (TV, movies ,video games, computer) for a person today compared to someone even 50 years ago, it is staggering. We have become such lax passive participants in life, that we even expect simple techniques as balancing budgets to become a sort of entertainment. Suzy Ormon is an example. She probably is just telling her followers common sense, but in a media format it gets paid attention to and seems some great secret. When, really, it is skills we should all have and have been taught or could teach ourselves, but unless we see it on tv or in a magazine, it seems to have little value. It seems we have become a sort of people who do not have self-motivation or determination to make our own decisions and understand where and why we do the things we now do.
It took time to create the type of people we now have who, for example,  make 8 dollars an hour to think it normal to pay over 300 a month on a car that is instantly worth less as you drive it off the lot.
I don’t know the exact moment in time when this seems to have started. I know I have sort of picked on the baby boomers of late, but I do sometimes find myself going back to that first spoiled generation.  They seemed to have got all the love and warm cooked meals of their parents generation and spent their parents money at college where they learned to hate and scorn those very skills.  And to make fun of the separate strength women and men had during the time of crisis and call it unfair. Then, not wanting to grow up, they turned to drugs to find alternative realities, all the while expecting their grandchildren to somehow magically become the adults their parents were in the 1950s to help support them in their old age with social security. I know that sounds harsh and it is hardly a fair look at an entire generation, but I do see examples of such people in my sphere.
But, let’s not point blame. It is good to follow a line of reason to it’s purpose to see what happened so it doesn’t happen again, surely. To learn from our mistakes. But, the key point being to learn rather than to point the finger of blame is what is needed, I think.
That leads me to another element of today’s society, which seems to be the “blame game”. It can be easy to look to others as the source of our own woes and unhappiness. There are countless talk/chat shows devoted to just that. Parents who themselves have had a child at 16, did drugs, and most likely were horrid to their own parents get on and cry and wonder how it is that their child does the same thing. People shout and point fingers at the unfaithful lover, the over eater, the enabler. Sometimes it is true that others are part of our own problems, but the actual majority of blame goes to ourselves. That, however, is a pill too hard to swallow, sometimes. So, why should we?
We worry about the world we live in and then when we are told what we can do: stop supporting big chains, save your money, use cash and not debit/credit cards, make your own food/clothes, restrict your entertainment budget and time, that is all too hard and we don’t want to hear it. So, we turn the TV on, sit in the darkened room staring at the computer, and wonder why our world is the way it is.
I know how hard it is to tick through that list of things to try yourself to feel you are changing, at least, your own portion of the world. It is hard, but very rewarding.
Now, having had to for this project, I am for the most part unplugged. It makes the world feel a more thoughtful place. That is I feel, on some level, I can both hear and think more without the distraction. And then it comes right down to it: Distraction.
It is all a big distraction. Wave the keys in front of the baby to make her stop crying. Here, look at the shiny pictures and the funny people on the TV and computer, while I slip in these ads for things you must have. Here, now, is advertising for a way of life disguised as entertainment: Reality shows that reward and highlight bad behavior and greed.
We now always expect something for anything we do. Certainly, we expect pay for our work, as we do need to live. But, if we do not have instant gratification for our pleasure hours (i.e. all the time we are awake and not at work) we don’t want it. Learning an instrument is hard work and the pay off comes AFTER all the frustration and struggle, but why not have the feeling of merely playing in a band with this video game. The concept of virtual life is slowly creeping over all of us. We are giving up our own personal power and self gratification and skill sets to mindless entertainment, and it really scares me.
I may seem as if I am trying to ‘take all the fun away’ but this is not about what NOT to do or what to merely take away, but what we are missing out on. By not getting or trying to do ourselves, by always seeking fulfillment in objects and entertainment, I think we are selling our lives short.
I don’t know how we have come to be this way. Certainly, if you are fabulously wealthy, such a life is more doable, though probably still empty. But, in that case, if you suddenly feel the need to change, it is easy to do. But, for the majority of us, we get caught in the web of needing things and entertainment and then we are stuck at jobs we hate with endless bills and now way to entertain nor do anything ourselves, so we buy more to distract: the next video game, the next cell phone, the next computer. They all cost more and we NEED them to distract from the unhappiness of our lives. Then, we don’t know how to cook dinner or make dessert, so we buy prepackaged food. More garbage, more calories, more waste, more money, therefore more time to work for more  money to feed the need for new toys. It is a maddening wheel slowly perpetuated by advertising through our entertainment media and we somehow think we cannot get off.
Can we get off?
How do we begin?
Really the very real concept of just entertaining ourselves without great expense seems to be undoable. Even watching TV is expensive. If you asked someone in 1955 to first pay for the TV and THEN keep paying each month to be able to watch shows, TV would have died out. Those people would have laughed at you to think, “Pay to watch TV, are you nuts?” Yet, a few generations later and we, none of us, can’t wait to pay for anything, it is so easy. We don’t see the money. It is some magical thing that goes automatically from our work to our bank and we use little plastic disks to purchase things. I never see the money, so it is easy to spend more than I have. I never have to see the food I eat nor how it is prepared, so more prepackaged chemical filled products please, as long as it is easy and doesn’t interfere with my leisure time.
I know I have really gone on this rant before. I also know I am as guilty of these very ‘sins’. But, in realizing my own involvement in them, has made me realize what a hold they have over me. And, trying to free myself from some of it, has made me realize when I do have a success at it, how wonderful I do feel.
I don’t want to seem preachy or the bossy school mistress, I only want all of us to realize how much potential we do have. We are certainly not less skilled than past generations and we have so much more, so I want us to take what we have and enjoy it along with reviving our own skills. The more we can do ourselves and save and help our family, the more fun and enjoyment will we get from our leisure entertainment time.
Try a new skill this week. Make something you thought you could not even try. What if you fail? Try again, right? The more you try to do yourself the more you will find yourself living your life instead of passing the time.
Happy Homemaking.
 Search The Apron Revolution