Friday, September 9, 2016

I Liked It Better When ...

 -- By Tom Phillips

1949 Buick Roadmaster
Today the Road to Dotage embarks on a new path, a dead end.  It's entitled "I Liked It Better When..."  

WAIT!  Let me explain...

This is NOT a sentimental series about how life was better in the old days.  Many things are much better now, such as cars that last 10-15 years;  such as free, instant self-publishing, rather than begging some commercial publication for a few inches of space to share your thoughts.  Still, as the song says. "there's something lost, and something gained, in living every day .."  This occasional feature will be a catalog of things lost, or on the way out, that used to make life richer or more enjoyable.  For starters, here's mine:

I liked it better when strangers talked to each other -- at bus stops, sushi bars, lunch counters etc.  Sitting six inches from a fellow New Yorker, or a tourist, used to produce a feeling of mutual curiosity that often led to conversation.  These little encounters were one of my favorite things about life in the big city.  You didn’t learn the other person’s name, or much about their private life, but you passed the time with observations – on the weather, the bus schedule, the soup, etc.  When you disagreed, you could learn something.  When you agreed, it was serendipity on a small scale – confirmation that you have company in this world, that others see things as you do. 

“Passing the time” was something people did together to fend off boredom, loneliness and worry, to make a temporary alliance against some annoyance, or share some passing pleasure. 

Today these conversations are rarer, in danger of extinction. The last time I ate at a sushi bar I was sitting next to a young woman who held her chopsticks in one hand and phone in the other, and only looked up from the screen to select her next bite.  A generation ago, many people would browse through a newspaper if they were eating alone.  But even that could provide an opportunity to talk – you could look over their shoulder and remark on a headline, or ask a question. You could never do that with a person looking at a mobile phone.  The screen is small, the information is private.  Your neighbor is in his own world, and it would be rude to intrude.    

I liked it better when people got bored in public, and looked around for company.  Now that we have access to constant entertainment and communication, we're starting to realize the value of boredom.  The popular child-rearing book “Bringing Up Bebe” says French parents provide daily opportunities for their children to do nothing, to see what they can make out of unstructured time and space. 

Theologians say this is how God created the universe – ex nihilo, out of nothing.  If we banish nothingness, out of what shall we create?    

Is there something -- or nothing -- that's disappearing from your life?  Write it up in 500 words or less, beginning with the phrase "I liked it better when..."   

Email it as a Word attachment to:   

Submissions may be edited for clarity and length.   Can't wait to see yours!

Copyright 2016 by Tom Phillips 

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