Things Don’t Change

(2005)

While driving home one day I pushed the seek button on the car radio.  All of a sudden I was singing “Last Dance” with Donna Summer.  I have to admit it, I like disco music.  Trouble is, it came and went so quickly.

But, hey, I thought, we live in a time of change.  Internet music files are replacing compact discs, which replaced cassettes, which replaced 8-track, which replaced vinyl records.

It’s not just music.  If your car was made in the 80s, it’s a clunker.  If you have a computer that’s more than five years old it’s a relic.  If you got your cell phone more than two years ago, it’s a curio.

They’re changing our health care system, the school system, the retirement system, even our money.  We have major league expansion, corporate mergers, government downsizing.  There is virtual this, electronic that, wireless this, genetic that.  You think you finally understand genome, pixel and bots and along come fuel cells, qubits and nanotubes.

And it’s not just the stuff we buy or bump into.  It’s our personal lives too.  We change our houses, our jobs and even our spouses more frequently than ever before.

Then something happened that made me rethink that old cliché about living in a time of change.  At a traffic light, a car pulled along side blaring rap—or crap, or whatever they call it.  I cringed.  It seems that rat-a-tat stuff has been around forever.  (I just recently learned it’s not actually the same piece played over and over.)  Maybe, I thought, not everything changes.

Look at men’s fashions.  Yes, casual Friday is working its way through the week, but still when modern man dresses up he puts on a buttoned shirt with collar and cuffs, creased pants, a tongue-like tie, and a short lapelled coat—the same outfit worn by Woodrow Wilson and Charlie Chaplin.  Except for the hat—we did lose the hat.

Wherever you look you see things that haven’t changed at all.  We still have toasters and toboggans, hankies and hand guns, fly swatters and fruit cakes just like people had a hundred years ago.  Professional sports haven’t changed much either, although the towns and stadiums keep changing.

Society and culture are no exceptions.  Yes, we’ve moved the woman from the house to the senate, and gone from don’t ask to do tell, and we can take a pill to prevent pregnancy and another one to promote it.  And yes, the Internet is spinning our heads.  But like our ancestors, we still distrust politicians, still admire actors and athletes, and still argue about evolution.  Like them, we get our hair cut, mow the lawn and trim the Christmas tree.  People still picnic and party, picket and protest.

Then I realized it wasn’t a matter of change or no-change.  Rather it was that when something new comes along, more often than not we don’t lose the old.  Yes, we now have e-mail and television but some of us also still write letters and go to plays just like people did two centuries ago.  We have not only electric lights but candles and fire places.  You can still buy clothes pins and rolling pins, flower pots and tea pots.

If you don’t like digital clocks get one with hands, or how about a sun dial.  Do you prefer velcro, zipper or buttons?  Got to compute?  Get a calculator, or a slide rule, or an abacus.  If you want to make a meal from scratch, you can.  Shave with a straight razor, go ahead.  Ride a horse, of course.

Sure, we’ve lost some things from the “good old days.”  But they’re mostly banes, like rampant racism, religious intolerance, political cronyism, and medical ignorance.

Still, if you want the piety of the past go live among the Amish.  Want the pioneer life, go rough it in the woods.  Want to live without electricity—well, in Michigan we’ve all done that.

The point is, you can enjoy the new and the old.  On TV you can watch a new sitcom or an old “Laverne and Shirley.”  You can listen to a Eminem on your computer or Neil Diamond on your tape player.  That’s what’s nice about living in yesterday’s future.  We get a choice between the new stuff and the oldies.

Now if only rap would join the oldies.