Computer experimenter since Windows 95

On 'Old cruft'

I'd like to open the post with a tidbit on 'old things' and their influence on society overall. We have old hardware, old people, and old customs that continually shape the 'new', which oftentimes merely imitates that which it learned from before. What do I mean by that? Socially we are constantly recycling and improving ideas, and so the preface for this post is that, no matter what is said, it is understood that we must always progress even if the new is hopeless in its current iteration. As Wallace T. Wattles once said, 'Everything is perfect, for it's time.'

"Back in my day..."

A phrase young'uns are all too familiar with, and usually tired of hearing. You may have grown up hearing this from your parents and grandparents, who left no year without educating you about the advances of mankind in their era. Even though often annoying to hear over and over again, there is some universal truth to this - look at where smartphones have taken society in just over a decade. Troves of people are connected via means that never seemed possible in any other era, and even more devices are talking to one another (so much so, IPv4 exhaustion is a real historical fact). As you age, consider the tales you will tell of dial-up modems, hitting a 4G dead-zone, or being trapped in 'dongle hell'.

What does the statement really entail though? That's what I'm interested in diving into in this post, the 'why' behind the 'what' of these reminiscing moments. To do so, I'll mostly lean on anecdotal experiences and occasionally attempt to link to something factually relevant.

In the beginning, there was Grandma Jan

In order to set the scene of this saying in my own personal life, I'd like to introduce my Grandma Jan, who as of this writing is currently out of her mind, living in her own past in the modern day. Suffice to say, this was her life before it became her prison.

Growing up with Grandma Jan was really quite an experience. She was eccentric and bold, had stark positions on topics, and took every moment to exact her views on those around her. Aside from her dogged salesmanship, she was a person who knew more than most and attained certain positions in society that were unheard of at the time - a female COBOL programmer who worked for American Express for much of her working life, retiring 'on time' and as a millionaire nearly, while being mostly a single mom for her career. She knew something about something, for sure, and she garnered respect in the family because of this success. Unfortunately to the children, she was rash, overbearing at most times, and an angry soul for her later, sane years.

As the world changed around her in retirement, she quickly responded in turn by stagnating. Her common retort to the evolving technology scene was the aforementioned opening quote, followed by, "Dear you have to understand, in my day, things were different..." which encompassed confusion about Windows XP, the analog to digital conversion effort by public cable, and even simple confusions about how appliances hadn't worked the way she thought they had. To understand this confusion better, let's address her personal environment.

Throughout my childhood, when we spent time over at Grandma Jan's house, we often interacted with dated or seemingly outmoded technology and ways of doing things. For instance, when we wanted to watch TV, on a different station than she was watching, she would hand us a small black and white mobile TV with a rotator dial for selecting the channel. This wasn't a step above her normal TV, which up until late 2000's was one of those large TV sets that was housed in wood, and required two or three grown men to move. To her, these technologies were sufficient to her needs, not ours, so 'c'est la vie'. Additionally, up until her computer crashed in late 2000's, she had only been using Windows ME on a dial up connection. She would sit daily at her classically-contoured, boxy UI and jab in URLs, waiting a consistently long time for the text to render on the screen, sipping coffee and petting her cat Bitsy. This was her life, she was content with it, and this was her environment.

Beyond her daily browsing habits and technological choices, this persistent 'They don't make them like they used to' attitude spread to other areas of her life. For instance, her Cadallic even on it's last legs, with limited part availability, was held together by her determination to keep the status quo, oftentimes spending thousands to fix something that normally should cost hundreds maybe. Even more glaring, even after a bout of lung cancer where they removed a section of her lung, she continued to smoke, and later in life even went as far as switching to cigarellos because, 'They were better for her', she would say.

Overall she was a 'stubborn old bat' in most regards, which may have been her eventual downfall.

When my second grandpa on my mom's side passed, Grandma Jan really took off on her idealisms and bantering. I can vividly recall mornings when she was visiting our home, when I was watching cartoons in the secondary living room, she would stomp in practically yelling, 'Your show is too loud! Turn it down!'. Being of the same hard-headed blood, compounded by the innately stubborn and combative Schmautz in me, I'd tell her that, 'It's not loud Grandma' and that I'd take no action to turn down Fox Kids on a Sunday morning. In response, she'd grab me by the arm, spouting the usual, 'Excuuuuse me?!' dumb-founded exclamation, as if she was my teacher and I had said, '.. your assignment is dumb'. This badgering mentality wasn't just for me, however, as she often verbally attacked my parents, specifically my mom. Jan's attitude was that of a different era and generation, a derelict mentality if you will, that she could just not see past and accept the world around her as it was. Her determination to hang on to the past was not a mere 'new things are bad', but an all-consuming mentality about the entire world not fitting her mold.

Other tendencies to reminisce

Beyond Gradma Jan, it's often that the vast majority of people look backwards and think back to a time when things were different than they are today without much leaning as to whether it was a good or bad thing that the world has changed. In my experience this is the vast majority of people - they relish the past, yet accept the future as it is, just as Wallace Wattles would want. A few good examples include the videogame market, the produce market, and the curious case of RayBan glasses.

Pew pew

Videogames of the past stick in my mind as pinnacles of engineering of that time period. When thinking on the topic, long days of playing Knights of the Old Republic and Halo come to mind, vast and daring games that pushed the limits of what games were going to be... Before the Xbox even, there was Perfect Dark and GoldenEye, Mario Kart and Super Smash Brothers, and of course Pokemon. When you consider the environment these titles came out in - with limited memory and storage capacity - it's incredible the kind of scope these games encompassed. Even more impressive though, was the social movement these titles would stir.

My first experience with Halo was.. incredible. My friends Shawn and Dorian were long time gamers and recently their parents had bought them a gen-1 Xbox, 'duke' controllers and all. I can recall countless weekends spent messing around on Blood Gulch and the snow level, whose name escapes me, just running around being stupid, as well as the struggle to clear the game on 'legendary'. The experience was so impactful, I too soon had an Xbox and was apart of the modern gaming movement, eventually convincing my parents to get Xbox Live and a cable modem to use it. This small change in the way gamers interacted would come to have a big impact, and in my first Xbox Live enabled game, Mech Assault, there was no lack of trash-talking and unfettered banter between combatants. Social gaming continued throughout the Halo series, getting weird after Halo Reach.

Pokemon was another social revolution taking place slowly on the playgrounds, as we secretly brought our Gameboys to school against the wishes of principals and parents alike. The other gamers and my friends at the time would spend a large chunk of time talking through our party, how many Pokemon we caught, and whether we wanted to trade (though we rarely did so). It was in those conversations that another kid had told us about the 'MissingNo Hack' and went through the motions to demonstrate it to us all! Nostalgia of this hack is so stark in the mind of gamers, that some have even gone to lengths to reinvent 'MissingNo' in modern Pokemon games.

Multi-grain, organic madness

Another interesting trend is the 'good eats' movement that has arisen in America, a trend towards 'organic' and better-for-you kinds of foods. Growing up I cannot say that this was ever the case.

Often times when my mom would take me to school in kindergarten, I can recall us stopping at Burger King or McDonalds for a breakfast combo. A hefty little kid, buttery croissants and hash-crowns filled my childhood with grease on grease, but I didn't care. My parents weren't necessarily 'fast food junkies', but they didn't shy away from eating out a few nights a week either, and even when we ate in, I can recall many meals 'out of the can', such as Dinty Moore with Pillsbury rolls - turnkey meals with little effort.

Unfortunately I ended up extremely obese and on the brink of diabetes constantly. You would think at some point the alarms would sound that the environment which I was partaking in was part of the cause, but no, there was no alarm. Silently, in my summers in high school after reaching my peak weight of 270, I caught the 'good eats' bug. At some point I ditched soda, and changed to tea or water full time. I stopped eating as much at dinner, and stopped enjoying some of the meals as much, favoring instead my own meals, which were experimentations with different foods. America was also waking up to this revelation too.

Eventually we saw the rise of the 'organic movement' which has caused supermarkets around the US to partition it's shelves into two sections for those health-conscious individuals, and those money-conscious individuals. Even more interesting, however, is that what started as a 'whole foods' movement soon made it's way into mainstream brands, with most cereal manufacturers, alternative milk producers, and even egg producers hopping aboard with 'natural' or closer-to-the-source products. Some may also refer to this as the 'fall of processed food', unlike the tide of Hamburger Helper, or Chicken and Rice my family enjoyed through childhood.

Looking back today, to a time when soda machines in schools actually sold soda, and to a time when kids ate pizza and it wasn't a pandemic, it's hard to wonder where things 'went wrong'. Were donuts okay, just not okay every Sunday? Or maybe it was all the processed foods, as most 'whole foods' conscious people would propose, that caused this trend. Whatever the cause, 'back in my day' we definitely did things a bit differently, and worrying less about our diets generally was a bad thing for our health.

Finally, RayBans

Not too much to say here, really. When a $20 pair of sunglasses becomes $150 over the course of a year or two, after foreign acquisition by Luxottica, selling nostalgia became a profitable business they continue today. 'Back in my day' the common man's sunglasses were everywhere at cheap prices, and not made by Italians, but alas, they're really nice today and I own multiple pairs. Complaining about their rebranding effort would be like being mad that an ice cream shop now uses only the finest quality Wisconsin dairy cow milk, which increased the price of ice cream.

Full circle

These days I find myself falling back into the mentality of Grandma Jan. My phone is an iPhone 5s which I'm fairly unwilling to upgrade (no 'bend gate' or battery scandals here folks), and much of my technology is aging rapidly, yet I don't really care. Why would I want a thermostat that can self destruct and leave me without heating or cooling functionality, or connect my toaster to the internet? Or why do I want a machine that is listening in for it's name, so it can perform an arbitrary search on the internet? All these things have their place, and most of the time it's in the trash. We are consumed today with the obsession with feature bloat, from our appliances, to our cars, to even our wrist watches which now barely tell time. Until technology starts fundamentally changing the way I live my life, I too will sit and drink coffee while petting my cat Chowder, pouring over articles, and living somewhat on the sidelines. Maybe Grandma Jan had a bit more wisdom to pass on after all.