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Plus Ça Change: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same!

“The toilet paper is just the same,” I said, walking into the kitchen. “And so are the paper towels.”

“What?” B responded. 

“In fact, the entire bathroom is just the same as when we were kids.”

“What are you talking about?”

“And so is the kitchen,” I continued as I looked around at the refrigerator, the stove, the dishwasher. “You see, everyone keeps complaining about the ‘pace of change’ — that everything changes so quickly these days, that it’s hard to keep up. But I don’t think it’s really true.”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, then, why don’t you tell that to my iPad. I can host a Zoom meeting from my desktop, but I can’t figure out how to do it from my iPad.”

“Okay,” I acknowledged. “We have personal computers and smart phones and other ways to communicate at the drop of a hat… or at the swipe of a key. But otherwise, our lives work pretty much the same way as when we were kids. In fact, I’d argue that our grandparents experienced more change in their lifetimes than we have in ours.”

“Okay, I’m listening,” she said. “Please explain.” 

I knew I had to jump at the chance, because B says she’s listening about as often as she says that I am right! So what was I talking about?

I’d been sitting in the living room, reading a book, and happened to lift my gaze over to the fireplace. We don’t use the fireplace very often because we have central heat. An oil burner with baseboard hot water. Or… exactly the same kind of heat we had in our house when I was a kid, 50 years ago.

But What Has Undergone Change?

So I began to wonder: how much has really changed? I live in a house that was built in 1963. I think the windows were replaced, and I know central air conditioning was installed at some point, because I can see the ducts in the back of the closets. But everything else about the house is the same as it was in 1963. So everything about our daily lives — especially when we’re mostly confined to our house during the pandemic — is pretty much the same as it would have been in 1963.

Computers And Phones

Except for the computer sitting on my desk, and the phone in my hand. Those are different, to be sure. Now I have the dubious pleasure of watching the cable channels that were not available in the 1960s, and the even more doubtful experience of checking in on Facebook or Twitter to view the latest rant by some political extremist… or see yet another picture of my cousin’s grandchildren who are just the cutest kids on earth and I know that because she posts pictures of them three times a day.

Movies And TV On Demand

I can also watch a lot of movies and TV series through Amazon or Netflix, on demand. That’s pretty cool. I can get reruns of SeinfeldThe Carol Burnett Show and even Gunsmoke on some of the cable channels. And I can watch 60 Minutes, a show which premiered in September 1968.

But even when the pandemic lets up and I can go outside, how different will the world look? I’ll get in my car to go to the grocery store. But I could drive a car in the 1960s, too. Sure, there are some improvements. There were no airbags, no backup cameras, no GPS, in the 1960s. But the basic experience is the same. The grocery store looks the same. The food is still the same — they still sell broccoli!

Planes And Cars

I’ll be able to get on an airplane and fly to Charleston, SC, to see the grandkids. But I could get on an airplane in the 1960s, too. The flight is a little less expensive now (adjusted for inflation) and probably more crowded. But basically, it’s the same experience.

Compare this to the lives of our grandparents. When they were kids, there were no airplanes. There were no cars. They took a trolley, or rode a horse. Many of them had no electricity, and no central heat until they upgraded their homes as adults. They didn’t have Social Security or Medicare. And they didn’t live long enough to need them. 

Life Expectancy

My grandparents were all born around 1885. Life expectancy in the U. S. at that time was about 41 years. By the time my parents were born life expectancy had gone up to 54. By the 1960s, it was 70 years. Since then it’s gone up some more, but despite advances in medicine the increase has leveled off. It has shown less change, not more change. 

And recent statistics show that the life expectancy for our grandchildren has not changed at all. For those born in 2010 the average life expectancy is 78.7. For my granddaughter, born in 2020, it is also 78.7.

Anyway, I have to go now. I have to set the table for dinner. And light the candles. B likes candles. 

Or… plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

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About The Author
Tom Lashnits
Tom Lashnits
Tom Lashnits spent 40 years in New York book and magazine publishing before retiring to Bucks County, PA, in 2017. He now volunteers in the school system, produces the baby boomer blog Sightings Over Sixty . . . and is just starting to chase after grandchildren.
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