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RSVPhillippi | May 2017


Out With the New

By Dennis Phillippi

‚ÄčThere are some phrases you never expect to hear an actual human being utter out loud. For instance I would be surprised to hear an old guy yelling at some kids to “Get off my lawn.” No woman would react positively to a man asking; “What’s your sign?” So, you can imagine my dismay when recently at dinner a man a few years older than me said, “These kids today” and then proceeded to go on an extended rant on young people being overly attached to their electronic devices. That is what he called them: “electronic devices.” Not “phones and tablets” but “electronic devices” like they’re so alien and inhuman that this man could not conceive of their exotic appeal.

Reliance on connectivity isn’t really the point here. The point is that from the very beginning of mankind there has been, and apparently always will be, a fundamental derision felt for whatever the next generation venerates. There must’ve been a time when elder early humans looked down from the safety of their tree at their descendents on the ground with nothing but contempt. “Look at them down there. Walking all erect like that. There are lions down there. And maybe dinosaurs.” The education system wasn’t great back then.  Still, they surely thought their kids were being reckless and irresponsible. The trees were perfectly adequate places to live, even if sleeping in them and falling out of them probably went hand in hairy hand.

I have no doubt that there was a lot of push back on the whole fire thing, too. Yes, it provided warmth and a way to cook meat, but it also was why Grog had no eyebrows on that huge forehead of his. This at a time when people were just accepting that there might be a better way to communicate than grunts and stick throwing.

Imagine how older people reacted when someone came up with the idea of domesticating animals. “So, what, the dog and pig are going to live with us? What’s next? Growing our own food?”

Forget trying to explain to those who came before the point of the wheel. “What, it rolls? Super. So does my Uncle Karok, you don’t see me trying to carry crops around on him. Next thing you know that’s all anyone will be doing. Rolling things. Kids. Eh.”

Around 3000 BC the Sumerians somehow stumbled onto the idea of money instead of the barter system. Trust me, that someone was young and I have no doubt it was not well received. “Let me be clear on this, I’m going to give you this cow. This handsome well-fed cow. And in return you’re going to give me that little piece of metal. My wife will be thrilled when I bring this home. Her first question, after she throws some clay pots at me for archeologists to find, will be how is she supposed to cook it. You know how we fear change.”

It was the same Sumerians who a century or so later scribbled up the idea of a written language, thus throwing out of work an entire industry of people whose sole purpose had been to remember things. A once proud profession that had preserved and handed down all of history was reduced to being crackpots shouting on street corners. They may have held on for a little while, but the advertising ducats had to have dried up pretty quickly. I’m certain that the oral historians weren’t the only ones vocal about this. “Why would I want everything written down somewhere? There are things I don’t want people to know about. Now that there are actually books it’s going to be a lot more difficult to cook them. Plus, this means people thousands of years from now will know everything, including that we couldn’t come up with a better name than Sumerians. It’s bad enough we’re leaving all these pottery shards all over the place.”

It was still centuries before someone in China created paper to write things down on. “So now we just throw out all these clay tablets? I love my tablet. I can’t function without my tablet.” This is widely believed to be the first instance where someone asked; “Why does China make everything?” At least they had something to write it on. Maybe this is how Fox News was born.

Naturally, and you know I can’t pass on the pun, electricity must’ve come as quite a shock. Suddenly energy could be invisibly transported through cables to kill you. Considering that electricity sparked into existence a century before the light bulb, it might’ve seemed kind of pointless. And boy oh boy, just imagine the hubbub when the light bulb did show up. “Good bye candles. Goodbye firelight. You know how many generations that candelabra has been in my family? What are we going to do with it now? Liberace won’t even be born for another hundred years.” A candle you could understand. Light a match. Make fire. A light bulb on the other hand, was some kind of weird magic cooked up by a guy in New Jersey. Do you really trust people from New Jersey?

It doesn’t matter what it was, the previous generation was probably having none of it. “Automobiles? What does that even mean? I have a perfectly good horse and you know what I put in his tank? Grass, hay, maybe some leftovers, and in return he pulls me around and makes fertilizer. We’re very green on our dirt farm.” “Radio? Who wants that? Some strangers, probably Yankees, shouting in my living room? That’s what we have spinsters and harpsichords for.” “Aeroplanes? This is getting ridiculous. If man were meant to fly he’d have confirmed reservations.” “Television? Fantastic. Now we can have more strangers shouting at us. Mark my words, sooner or later they’re going to show men and women kissing.”

Innovation comes from the young. Resistance comes from the old. Been that way since we lived in trees.