I was videoconferencing my daughter recently and the connection broke at least five times as we talked. “Sorry”, she told me early on. “My phone’s getting old. I really have to get a new model.”
“Gee,” I answered, “It doesn’t seem like you’ve had it that long: it’s just a couple years old, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s ancient.” She sighed. “I got it six years ago, Mom.”
I guess that in today’s terms, six years is ancient. My daughter is not much of a technophile: it’s rather admirable that at her age, she’s held onto a phone ‘that long’.
My mother was born into a poor family at the end of the Great Depression. She and my Dad got married back in the late fifties. Even though they started out pretty poor, they both did well for themselves and lived a good, comfortable retirement. Nonetheless, my mother never lost her habit of saving absolutely everything, ‘just in case’. When she finally moved into a seniors’ home a few years ago, my sister and I found bottles (upon bottles) filled with buttons, loose change, clothespins and mason-jar tops; several jars filled with those twisty bread ties that haven’t been around for decades now; a drawer filled with restaurant napkins; containers of restaurant salt and pepper packages; a box filled with extension cords and cables. And of course: the infamous ‘junk drawer’, that included boxes of matches, little nails, safety pins, elastics, a wide variety of bits of string and ribbons in various lengths and materials, old birthday candles; not to mention miscellaneous hardware from dozens of items that had broken down over the years. I could go on and on. My mother’s generation kept everything. You never knew when that little bit of hardware or the right length of string might just come in handy.
When she finally left her home, Mom’s fridge and stove were the second she had bought in all the years she and Dad were married: fifteen years earlier, she and Dad had reluctantly decided to purchase new ones after their forty-year-old models had become inefficient. I vaguely recall that they were disappointed: what was the world coming to when a stove died after just forty years of use?
Like my parents, I bought my first washer and dryer expecting them to last my lifetime. Less than fifteen years later, I was appalled to already be needing replacements. The repairman I called to try and fix them told me I was lucky to have kept them that long. My husband and I had to buy a new washer and dryer recently (my fourth set and I just turned sixty). The saleslady told us this set probably won’t last more than five years.
I am seeing more and more photos of our oceans overflowing with plastic and landfills overflowing with everything else. Last summer, my husband and I spotted a nearby graveyard of old television and computer consoles, unceremoniously dumped over the river bank near one of our favourite walking trails. I recently found out that the fashion industry is the second-worst polluter in the world after oil. Most people will have owned dozens of phones in their lifetime. Ours has become a disposable economy: money makes the world go ‘round but only if our stuff is replaced frequently, whether we need to or not. After all, if our things lasted as long as they did in our grandparents’ time, well, how could the rich get richer?
Because, let’s face it; it’s always about the rich getting richer.
A friend of mine recently told me, discouraged, that perhaps the world needs a ‘reset’. Wipe the slate clean and just start over: a modern-day Noah’s arc, so to speak. Sad that the thought held some fleeting appeal for me. And then I realised; naw, give us a hundred years and the world would be just as full of junk as it now.
Our species doesn’t seem to be all that good at learning to do better.
And the rich just keep coming up with new things for us to buy…
Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com