Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Keeping the status quo

If you are like most people, sometime around your first birthday you learned to walk. Oh, it took you a year or more to reasonably perfect the skill, but with perseverance and the encouragement of those around you, but the time you reach the age of four, you were fairly fluent. You could get where you wanted to go, both quickly and slowly, depending on your mood and enthusiasm, you could go up and down stairs, stop, start, raise up to a standing position and sit back down, all with relative ease. Over time, you have come to think of walking as second nature, as if you were born to it, and no longer regard the skill as anything requiring your conscious attention, with the exception, of course, of walking on unaccustomed or challenging terrain.

So, what if things suddenly changed and you had to relearn walking every three to five years? And not relearn what you know now, but you had to learn new ways of accomplishing what you do now because the old ways suddenly no longer worked. Suppose, for example, that when you tried to sit in a chair, nothing happened. When you activated all the muscles and nerves you usually used to sit in a chair, you just remained standing,. Or worse, you sat on the floor instead. Suppose that some of your movements worked as normal…say, crossing your legs…but others didn’t work at all any more. And that you suddenly found yourself walking backwards when you wanted to climb the stairs.

And then you discover your next door neighbour is doing the same thing, but he doesn’t seem to be as concerned or upset as you are. “You’ve been upgraded,” he tells you over the back fence. “Some new features added, some old one deleted or their controls changed. You’ll get used to it.” And grumbling that it’s taken you three years to master this last upgrade, you walk backwards into your house (because trying to walk forward the old way doesn’t work at all any more) and click on the TV to the Help channel and being the laborious task of learning how to use the lower half of your body all over again.

This would be a pretty stupid way to live our lives, wouldn’t it? A waste of time, energy, brainpower, effort…all of which could be better spent doing other things, if only taking a leisurely Sunday afternoon nap. Just recently I lost half a day trying to figure out why I couldn’t connect to the internet. Hubby, technical whiz that he is, tracked down the problem after first discerning the problem was not Telkom, our ISP, our modem or our wireless router…his computer was humming along the internet just fine. Mine, however, was dead. At first we thought it was the wireless radio in my laptop, because I could connect to the net if I connected to the router via a phone cable. Had this been the case, it would have been a very costly fix, since my laptop is 2.5 years old and it is unlikely that parts for it exist anymore. It would likely have meant a replacement had Hubby’s wizardly brain not discovered that a bunch of my settings had been altered in such a way that my radio was no longer functioning. Effectively, it was shut off in some part of the software.

Now, nobody uses my computer but me…and I didn’t turn anything off. In fact, I make it a point to stay away from all those internet settings and such because I don’t know what they do and as the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But the settings had been changed and when Hubby discovered that fact and returned them to their previous conditions, I was back on the internet without a hitch.

So what happened? Well, as near as I can figure, one of those automatic upgrades came along and reset some stuff which was incompatible with the settings necessary to connect to my wireless lan. I usually leave my computer on overnight and some mornings I awaken to find that Microsoft has taken my computer over and forced some kind of upgrade upon it, then rebooted the machine. Other times, I find that Symantec has updated my Norton Utilities without asking my permission first (it is only supposed to be able to do that to my anti-virus definitions). Perhaps one of those updates involved resetting something? I don’t know, but I do know that nobody in this household changed them.

I don’t like upgrades, updates, and things like that. Yes, I know that could make me look like a Luddite in some circles, but c’mon, if I don’t want to make MSWord play “Oh Danny Boy” on bagpipes in the background while I type, why should I have to add that ability to my existing installation? And if I’ve memorized 500 shortcuts and keystrokes, do you really think I want to relearn half of them? Just how irritated…and unproductive…do you think I get when a key combination I’ve been using for years now doesn’t work any more or worse, does something entirely different? I’ve been using MSWord since 1986 (before PCs had mouses!!) and I probably have learned 500 keystroke combinations in that time…not that they all work the same way they used to.

This may sound petty, but think about it for a minute. What if you got into your car one morning and the turn signal stalk and the wiper stalk had been switched? Hubby deals with this every time he switches from the S2000 to the Merc, and his annoyance does not diminish with time. He will hit the indicator lever and when water sprays up onto the windscreen and the wipers deploy, he is NOT a happy man. Wouldn’t it be just jolly if one day he trod upon the brake pedal thinking it was the stiff clutch of his sports car?

I am not antiprogress, but I think change for the sake of change is just stupid. In 1975 I bought a TR-6 and I drove it until 1990, giving it up only because my hip was just not managing with that clutch anymore. In 1990 I bought a Mazda B2600i 4x4 and drove it until early 2004 when I moved to South Africa. In both cases I drove the vehicles for years without having a car loan hanging over my head and, with proper maintenance, sold them in excellent condition. In the time that I had only two cars, the average American had ten…and a never-ending debt load, since they were trading in one loan for another with each upgrade. And why? I got rid of the TR for medical reasons, and the 4x4 because it was impractical to export it…both ran well and looked good…why would I want to trade it in?

I’m kinda the same way about my houses. I bought a house in 1977 and lived there for 13 years. A divorce brought that house to sale. My next house I also lived in for 13 years and only sold it to move to South Africa. Now I’ve lived here for four years, three of them in this house…the first house was just too small for all my big American furniture (literally…we had half of it out in the garage!). It will be no surprise if I live here until I die in 20 or 30 years hence.

I’m good at keeping stuff that works. My Maytag washer and dryer set lasted me 28 years, my GE refrigerator 22. Some of my furniture is nearly 100 years old, inherited from relatives who have gone on to the Great Beyond. The stuff I purchased new…well most of it is creeping up on 20 years old, but it’s solid wood and non-trendy in design, so they’ll likely be the heirlooms of the future. Most of my appliances toddled off in the arms of new owners at garage sales because the power is different here in SA, so I can’t use them here. But my dishes are 22 years old and still grace the table as well as they did when they were new.

I believe in changing things for rational reasons. In California, the Maytags fizzled out and were not energy efficient, so I had no qualms about replacing them. They had, after all, served an entire family for more than a quarter of a century. Here, I replaced a nearly new kitchen stove…one of those ceramic top jobs…with a gas range: electricity is a very expensive way to cook your food and now, with the power failures, while everybody else is trying to boil water on a BBQ grill, I have a kerosene lamp on the counter and my burners are merrily dancing with flame.

So, today I drive an eight-year-old car. My husband’s is nearly new, but that was because his previous one was wrecked by the dealer and had to be replaced…otherwise he would be driving a car the same age as mine. I try to add things to my wardrobe that both appeal to me and will stand the test of time, things that, when past the first blush of fashion, will enter the pantheon of enduring style. I have no qualms about spending hundreds on a handbag, but only if it is the kind of bag that is not dated by its trend trappings. No blingy Guess bags for me, I’ll take timeless Ralph Lauren.

So, I’m not a big fan of change for its own sake. Fashion passes me by, trends don’t bother to stop at my doorstep. If I can’t think of a justification beyond “it’s cool!” or “I want one,” it’s not very likely to end up in my life. It’s my opinion that buying a new car every three years or moving house every three or four is just a waste of money, money that could be put to better use elsewhere. Next year my car will be paid off and, knowing that I keep cars for 14 or 15 years, Hubby is already planning what to do with the money that will be freed up. Right now he’s tossing around either the down payment on another piece of rental property or setting the money aside to finance a truly fabulous vacation.

I’ve been looking in jewellery store windows…quality jewellery can be a really good investment…

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