Standing on the PO steps watching all the girls go by

Courtenay Post Office after the 1946 earthquake

We tend to forget the way it was and it’s a human failing to not fully appreciate or even understand the mammoth changes society has undergone in a matter of a couple of decades. We are so immersed in the technology of today, and it governs so much of what we do we lull ourselves into thinking it has always been thus. Hell, as recently as a decade ago it wasn’t anywhere near as ‘thus’ as it is now. Go back 20 and it will be reminiscent of medieval times.

This week’s episode of NCIS captured our tech changes vividly. A mammoth power blackout in DC rendered all of their toys inoperative, and left the team in a state of confusion. That computers were inoperative went without saying. But, that was only part of the agony. There was no email, no faxes, no printers, no electronic searches for bad people, no GPS scrutiny, no DNA profiling, etc. etc. The boys and girls had to resort – and it almost seemed funny in its antediluvian nature – to Polaroid cameras (where in hell they got Polaroid film wasn’t explained) since they couldn’t download digital pictures, and an archaic mimeograph machine. Mimeographs. Remember those, if you’re past a certain age? The teacher would hand out papers and students would invariably inhale deeply to suck in the acetone fragrance and kill a few dozen brain cells.

It was all fun at one level, but it was also a fairly powerful object lesson on how we rely utterly on our technology and how lost we would be without; how dangerous the world would be without it. The only upside, depending on taste or lack thereof, would be the devastating blow to the online porn industry.

But, again it took a body back to how recent all this stuff is and how ubiquitous it has become to the degree it seems like it has always been with us. Even now, as I sit here at my laptop writing this stuff, I also can check my email, or go to Google to seek out information or a photo to run with it, can instantly find out what I need to find for a freelance story I’m supposed to be writing rather than doing this, find a particular YouTube music video for a bit of a break, or even find a very dirty picture or video of naughty girls doing unspeakable things. Not that I would ever do that.

Yet, I only got my first home computer as recently as 1994. We had been working on them for a couple of years at the newspaper so I thought it was high time I had one of my own. It was good to have, though it was glitchy in itself, boasted inconvenient and slow dial-up access to the Internet and operated through a modem that was so slow I could go and make a sandwich while I waited, and then only to find that it had crashed in the process, or that some meathead had tried to phone me and cut out the download process. This was also pre-Google time and the search engines of yore were notably flaw-ridden and limited in their scope.

A couple of years before that a colleague regaled the newsroom staff with a tale of how her 7-year-old son wanted to get a fax machine for Christmas. “Can you imagine that?” she asked. “A fax in your own home? I have no idea where he gets those ideas.” 

Prior to that, as I have said before, we used typewriters in the newspaper biz and the terms cut-and-paste meant literally that.

The world was simpler. It wasn’t much safer, but it plodded along in its own way and we got things done. Still, I continue to be amazed in retrospect, and am only thankful that I have never been a luddite. I appreciate the technology I need and can use, and I shun the crap I have no yearning for. I am not a techno-whore, but I am as current as I need to be to get the job done and keep in touch with friends and family. Just a little example of the gifts of technology; it is a dream for a freelancer. Not so many years ago if I wanted to submit an article to a publisher, I had to send off what was called hard copy in the biz, along with attached actual photos in a big manila envelope. Now, all I need to do is exercise my fingers a bit and she’s a gone.

But, sometimes I also get wistful and a bit staggered by the changes that seem to have happened so quickly – and conveniently forgetting what a relatively old fart I am and how many years have actually intervened in this process of change.

In my wistfulness I think of how I first came to this community from the big city and was appalled to a degree with how ‘quaint’ everything was. In those days the community had about a quarter of the population it has today. Our communication hub was the old Courtenay Post Office. There was no home mail delivery. You rented a box at the PO and picked up your mail there. This was staggeringly foreign to me, and I didn’t realize it was the norm in many small communities in both Canada and the US. For a while I muttered profanely about rubes and hicks and stupid little towns.

But then I changed. I got more used to the community and I came to like going to the post office on a daily basis. I came to learn that you met everybody at the PO. It was a strong human link that gave a sense of belonging. Sometimes it would take nearly an hour to break away because of the other folks there. Local news and gossip thrived, and not a few romances began on the PO steps.

And the building itself was kind of cool. A big old brick edifice, it looked official, but still sort of warm. If you looked up one wall you could see the scars at the top from where a big chunk fell off into the street during the 1946 earthquake (as pictured above but long before my time of standing on the steps talking to pretty young ladies of interest).

Would I long to go back to those days? Not for a moment. I likes me my access, not to mention cable TV, but sometimes it seemed so much simpler and, dare I say, warmer.

Could you do without contemporary technology? What would you miss most if it were taken away?




7 responses to “Standing on the PO steps watching all the girls go by

  1. That is easy to answer. My telephone & my computer.
    My regret with the computer is, it becomes a little isolating if one doesn’t venture out to the village, or other points of constact, with other folks.

  2. Since I gave away all my how-to-survive-in-the-wilderness books, I’d have to say I’d miss the easy information access of the Internet. Being that I’m a medievalist, I do practice some of the old skills (but more for the joy of doing than for weaving my own clothes).

  3. I guess there’s no point in yearning for the old days.

    However, I’m glad I experienced the newspaper industry in all its various forms: hot metal, web offset etc; phoning in copy from a smelly, draughty phone box; typing out stories with three carbon copies; laying out pages and putting the bundled up pages (with all the photos etc) onto a van to take to the printers etc etc.

    I love having a computer and Internet access and all that goes with it. But sometimes it’s nice to look back and remember how it was…

  4. Sure I’d miss technology. But I don’t have a cell phone, I don’t even have a microwave, so…

    I’ve only had a computer and internet at home for about a year, and I suppose I’d miss it, but not for long.

    I’d miss satellite TV (life wouldn’t be the same without the Food Network – which obsession is mildly bizarre as I don’t like to cook), but I’d get over that too. Actually I think it’d be nice to “have time” to read more.

    I’d really couldn’t live without electricity though – hot showers are a must… Oh, you weren’t going THAT far back in your technology question?

  5. ATMs. How did we ever live without them? Remember lining up in the bank every Friday and waiting 20 minutes to get cash for the weekend?

  6. Oh yes I remember how it was my job to get the mail at the post office when I was a kid. The key and the little box and the exciting notice when there was a parcel. Mind you today the newer houses don’t get home delivery anymore and now have to go to a postal box by the side of their street… talk about déjà-vue.

  7. Nicely said.

    Hmmm. I barely use the telephone or cell phone, although I suppose one “has” to have them these days for safety reasons. I avoid using the dryer, so most of the time I wouldn’t miss that, either.

    Up until a few years ago, I would have also listed TV and cable. Alas, my husband has ruined me. It’s high speed internet all the way now, plus streaming of video directly to the terabyte drive he has for the TiVo.

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