Opinion

Looking backward

Looking backward is interesting—and sometimes quite sad. Often we lament those items we had, or our parents had, that are lost to the current generation. We realize, too, that time cascades onward, so that the things we took for granted are gone forever.

I was listening to an old song the other day.  It spoke of a man looking back in time:  “You wrote on my slate, ‘I love you so’/ when we were a couple of kids.”  Indeed, in schools prior to the 1950s, slates were used to write on and do sums because they were reusable and paper was expensive.

Slates had gone out by the time I started school. We wrote in notebooks and on sheets of foolscap. When my grade six friend, Doug, received a love note from Linda, it was on a tiny scrap of paper all folded up.

Nowadays, students use laptop computers to take notes in school. If my neighbour’s girl were to send an “I love you so” note to another elementary student, it would be texted. In fact, all sorts of electronic devices have taken over in the past 20 years.

I was also reflecting on my grandparents’ mode of transportation when they arrived in Canada in 1913. They traveled across the ocean by passenger ship, then across Canada by steam train, and then by horse and buggy to the farmland they had to prove up.

In the early part of the last century, grandfather’s transportation to town changed from horse and buggy to a motorized vehicle—likely a model T.  His eldest son owned sleek air-conditioned vehicles later on in his life.  Now his granddaughter takes trips around the world in airplanes carrying 300 people.

When my Aunt Rosie moved onto a wheat-farm in the 1950s, she used a telephone for the first time. It was a large wooden box mounted to the wall with separate speakers and receivers. Dialing was by way of a metal circle with number holes for the sender to spin. The voice messages were often conveyed along barbed fence lines.

My mother signed up for a telephone in 1962.  Telephones had evolved to smaller black plastic devices mounted on the wall or sitting on tables.  These phones had a hand-held device which had a receiver and a speaker on opposite ends.

Since then, I have been using various types of these phones, better known today as land-line phones. In the last few years, they have been replaced by cell phones and smart phones with all kinds of programming.

Recently, I was listening to an old-timer moan about having to live in a senior's complex. Apparently, his son and daughter simply moved him there. In the deep past, this senior would have been kept in the family home, and the son and daughter would have moved into his home to look after him.

Another elder expressed concern that young people aren’t able to add things up in their heads anymore. He was at a store where the cash register wasn’t working, and he bought some candy for 93 cents. So he gave the clerk a loonie, and she had to take out her calculator to find out how much change he had coming.

I could have told him that things have progressed since we counted using stones or tallied by abacus.  When I was in school, we memorized times tables and did our math with paper and pen. Now, electronic devices are the norm for adding and subtracting. They say it’s all for the better, but I wonder what we’re losing while we’re gaining the future.

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