Monday, May 22, 2006

Thoughts on Societal Evolution

On Saturday we viewed a house that had evidently been cleaned up and remodeled after an estate sale. Along the freshly-painted walls someone had taped "before" pictures of room after room papered with tacky paper and crammed to the gills with junk of all descriptions.

People often blame such messes on people growing up during the Depression. (Which, of course, is not necessarily applicable. My grandparents' house is always in a state of spic-and-spanness that I will never achieve. And although they still have a chest of treasured toys from my mother's childhood, there is a distinct lack of used coffee filters being saved.)

It seems to me, though, that growing up any time before the recent explosion of consumer goods would make "saving stuff" a more appropriate survival strategy than "throwing stuff away." When goods are scarce, it makes sense to hang on to them. Here and now, you can have way more goods than you could ever use without even trying to buy stuff.

This, of course, makes things more difficult for people with packrattish tendencies. But for those who have grown up in a world where people throw things away, at least it's not quite so difficult. Natural packrats who grew up in a "save everything" world and find themselves in a disposable world have the worst time of it.

Therefore, I predict that over the next few decades such messes will become rarer. And I will believe DOB when he reassures me that, even though I am not very tidy and he likes to save his favorite childhood box, we will never turn out like that.

(The cleaned-up house, btw, is the house of our intermediate dreams, and we would be dancing in the streets if all the pieces fell into place for us to get it. But we shall see.)

Among many other thoughts on Beau Geste and its sequels, which I may post some time, was the noticing of a phenomenon I have often seen in books predating the mid-twentieth century. (L. M. Montgomery; Booth Tarkington; Louisa May Alcott) Teenagers play. They play various versions of Cops and Robbers (Cowboys and Indians; Spahis and Arabs) with great elaboration. They re-enact famous historical events or literary scenes. They make up newspapers. The girls may still care for their dolls.

They're doing all these things and then, bam, the boys are off to Harvard and the girls are packing up their hope chests. Or they're out getting jobs to support the family.

Do teenagers do this anymore? I don't remember playing much as a teenager, but then, I was sick for the early years and then got caught up in a more grown-up world. My brothers did, I know. DOB says he and his brothers did. (For that matter, they still do.) Playing army seems to be acceptable a lot longer than most other games. But in the World at Large, do modern teenagers play anything but the Nintendo?

Somehow childhood used to last a lot longer than it does now, and yet full adulthood started a lot sooner. Adolescence seems to be a much less useful tool for transitioning into adulthood than it's made out to be.


the Joneses said...

"Spic-and spanness" or "spic-and-spanity"?

I'm an awful packrat, but after staying the house of an older woman who saved pretty much every Reader's Digest and every Christmas card, I'm sufficiently scared into cleaning now and then.

As a teenager, I enjoyed playing pretend with my neices, but on my own I generally channelled my play-pretend into writing. But it was nice, at seventeen, not to be expected to act twenty-five. (At twenty-five I was still acting seventeen at times, but fortunately I grew up.)

-- SJ

Devona said...

Have you read Neil Postman's The Disappearance of Childhood? I've only read the essay, not the book that followed, but I think that you'd really like it.

Queen of Carrots said...

I keep thinking I should read some Neil Postman. I didn't know he had a book on that, too.