From The Uppity Negro Network, Living In Liminality, The Typewriter Series Presents: “The Simpler Things In Life”

typewriter and coffeeI’m doing a series, just about three or four, might be five, can’t remember, blog posts that I had actually typewritten on a Royal Typewriter Futura.  These are my thoughts during that fateful period this past summer while I was on my internship and was without my laptop for about three FULL weeks.  I had to endure crappy cable that only went up to channel 30 and essentially no internet for that period of time.  Here are my my thoughts from that time period. JLL

So by now everyone who’s been a consistent reader of this blog or following me on Twitter, has been aware of my non-technological status for some time now.  And so it got me to thinking on this whole idea of post-modernity and Graham Johnston’s supposition that post-modernity embraces all things “retro.”  I wasn’t sure if it was an appropriate label for all post-moderns, but admittedly, there are an eclectic few who do have this weird affinity for the simpler things in life.

You see for post-moderns such as myself, this eclectic few, there’s nothing wrong with having this Royal Typewrite Futura 600 model with the “Magic Trademark Margin” red tables typing away with my Tmobile G1 phone full of apps, connected to the internet and email sitting right next to the two.  It really doesn’t phase me if some of my friends laugh and call me “truly one of a kind”; in fact I join in the laughter with them.  And I know I’m not alone, I have a few friends who are totally intrigued with anachronisms.  Uppity Friend who guest blogged some time last year wants to go back to the days of actually having a calling card and wants to employ the use of words and phrases such as “suitor” and “gentlemen caller.”

That’s not the end of the world.  Not even remotely.  Why?  Because in a world that at times makes no sense, that’s something that does begin to make sense; it gives some definition in her world and she probably understands that that would work only in her world.

But one can’t help but think how simple some things must have been as far as everyday tasks—or rather how life must have been for your average white family in America in the 1940s and 1950s.  Let’s take communication first.  In the 1940s and 1950s we most certainly did not have cell phones which translates to no text messaging.  Honestly, nowadays with the “reply to all” button on some cell phones, one message get’s from New York to San Francisco in under five seconds!  And remember the days of the Pony Express—17 day turn over time.  In order to get word across the country you had either send an actual letter, pick up the telephone (if both parties had one) or send a telegram.

Remember the standard letter?

You would have the “Dear so-and-so” line with the date in the upper right hand corner and you’d have the corpus of the letter and then the signature line?  Remember they taught us how to write letters in grammar school and our mother would help us send a letter to grandma or auntie so-and-so?  I heard nowadays that they don’t even teach cursive writing in schools anymore.  And why should they?  Honestly, by fourth grade when kids are beginning to turn in essays from home, the teachers want them typed.  No wonder kids can’t do an in-class essay, but I guess that’s another blog for another day.   But honestly, who sits down and writes letters anymore?  We’d just as soon as pick up the phone and call.

All of us are connected somewhere, plugged into the matrix of electronics someway.  Hell, one of the 87 year old fathers of the church I was at this summer had a Facebook page.  All of us have a cell phone, even if it’s a Metro or Boost Mobile, we’re attached somehow.  And just about everyone has an email address if for nothing else than for the job.

Western Union telegramThe third antiquated way of communication was to send a telegram.  Seriously, none of us have any remote frame of reference to a telegram.  A telegram was where you’d pay the big business, usually Western Union to send a message, usually a couple of line, and you’d pay per word or by the line, and they would guarantee their message on delivery.  What made it better than snail mail, was that this was the predecessor to our email or daresay instant messaging equivalent.  They would also use a telegraph to send the telegram messages over the wire.

Damn!  Do I need to describe what a telegraph is as well?

A telegraph was a device that would tap into an electric circuit the alphabet through a series of dots and dashes and that message was transmitted with some random clicks and ticks over the electric wires in a few seconds—like instant messaging—and wasn’t as slow as three day mail by air.  Makes sense, if someone doesn’t have a phone, how could you receive the news of the death of a loved one by mail five days later?

My how far we’ve come.

The idea of not having instant messenger but rather a telegraph or a telegram is utterly preposterous to me.  But life existed before it and life will exist after it.

Then let’s take transportation for instance.

My own personal belief is that quick transportation is what transformed the business world as we know it.  Now one can hop on a red-eye flight and be across the country in five hours, four if you have a tail wind.  Prior to commercial air traffic, one would have to go to the train station.

Do we all know what a train station is?

At the train station one would purchase a paper ticket.  There was no e-ticket with an email confirmation.  I remember once when I was flying back to New Orleans from Christmas break and all the woman needed was my name and some confirmation code from an email I printed out and I was like “Oh wow, this is new.”  Back in the day, if you didn’t have your ticket with a corresponding serial number, no boarding—THAT’S IT!  There was no computer system with which to pull up another copy to double check that you were really you; if you lost your tickets you were just SOL.  And as it is now, and then, a cross-country train trip was three days from New York to Los Angeles.

Washington DC Union StationNow with train travel at such a nadir, almost all trains have to go through Chicago or Washington, D.C. to get connecting train lines that severely add time to travel.  Like for instance, the state of Tennessee only has two Amtrak stations: one in Memphis and one in eastern Tennessee.  The state capital of Nashville doesn’t even have Amtrak that goes through it.

I know I’m totally romanticizing all of this, but truth be told, wouldn’t it be nice if we could slow all of this down just a little bit to a point where we could afford to take a three day train trip across the country?  Yes, I know many within the megalopolis from Washington, D.C. to Boston, Mass. frequently catch the various trains up and down that corridor, but if y’all were going anywhere else, I’m quite sure that you’d be booking a flight via Expedia, Orbitz or Priceline.  Again, it’s nothing wrong with flying, but is it not a sad indictment against a society that needs it.  Just take the four days after 9/11 when the FAA ceased all airline travel.  Well, that had never happened before and business came to a screeching halt, and even then, for some reason, it wasn’t like Amtrak saw a major bump in ridership numbers.  But business stopped, and even the skies were clear—I mean, there wasn’t any pollution!  Seemed to make sense to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I took the train from New Orleans to Chicago my first semester home, and that damn 20 hours was about to make me go crazy.  It’s a 2.5 hour flight under normal circumstances direct on Southwest, maybe six hours if you count the AirTran layover through Atlanta, and hell, it’s a 15 hour car trip.  But taking the train for 20 hours made so much more sense; I had so much leg room that my feet didn’t even touch the seat in front of me and I’m 6’2”.  Not to mention a dining car and a comfortable ride.

Why can’t we go back to that?

I’m sure I could go on a long excursus as to why and how capitalism ruined a good thing that we had, or even talk about ridiculous corporate greed, but I’m not.  For what purpose?  As much as I like, or prefer the relaxing ride of a train to that of a car ride or a plane, it’s just limiting.  Evolution, if you will, is inevitable!  The purpose of humanity is to always think new thoughts; could you imagine if we had peaked out in the 18th century?  With new technology came new sociological thoughts and of course vice versa of course.  Whereas buying into the Calvinistic worth ethic or most certainly understanding Max Weber’s idea of capitalism on the dawn on the industrial age gave rise to new sociological thoughts concerning labor.  Clearly Eli Whitney and the cotton gin in 1793 did nothing more than entrench the new United States in the southern system of slavocracy, or even with the dehumanization process of factory workers receiving pennies for their work.  Let the record show that this country was built on the backs of slave labor and agriculture produced in the South and shipped and manufactured in the North.  Not to mention that African Americans constituted a major percentage of factory workers as they worked along side ethnic European immigrants at steel mills and coal mines—both groups suffering from cruel dehumanization perpetrated by cruel line bosses and managers and most certainly mere pawns by executives who may have never stepped near a blast furnace or descended one mile beneath the earth into a coal mine.

As we stand now, we are a global society despite what Newt Gingrich may believe otherwise.  As a global society, we are struggling to find a place for the descendants of factory workers.  As the technology changed, so has our way of thinking because we now have the easy ability to ship manufacturing jobs overseas for the sake of a larger profit.  Whereas before there was some apparent thought given to the American worker, there seems to be little to none now.

In short, things have gotten rather complicated.  Although, truth be told, were they really ever that simple in the first place?  Maybe for our own sake we have just told ourselves how easy it was and just how simple life really was, but particularly for African Americans, life most certainly never has been and currently is not that simple for the vast majority of us.  Technologically speaking, communication has gotten extremely complicated and I’ll be the first to say I wish we could go back to the old school values of relationships such as picking up the phone and calling someone rather than texting.  I mean what’s up with this breaking up by texting.  It was already tacky enough if you broke up by phone, but now texting?!!?

I think what technology has rendered is a group of beings who are just doings; we’ve forgotten about the human touch that only we can give.  This human touch cannot be replicated by some artificial intelligence of a robot or God-forbid some other sort of man-made morphed creation.  As we go forward with our new idea, I think we should all bear in mind that we are in fact human, and we should embrace our relationships with ourselves and with each other.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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