Touch, You & Your Family

Pure nostalgia or note-worthy?

We need to strike a balance, as in so many things, between the past and the present. We need to have in our lives a place for things and practices from the past that are noteworthy, that are still of value.

In the previous article, I talked about memory. Recently, the following memory drifted back into my consciousness.

I had just started work with my third employer. I noticed that the agency lacked a piece of office equipment which was revolutionary for its time. When I proposed to my new boss that perhaps we would be more efficient if we purchased a facsimile machine (now commonly known as a fax machine), his response was: “What for?”

It was not that my boss was not interested in improving office efficiency. Rather, he thought highly of the efficiency of postal services which promised same-day or next-day delivery. He was also, I suspect, one of those who was a little suspicious of the need and value of hurrying things along.

Well, the fax machine came and invaded many of our offices and homes. And if you still have one, it is probably gathering dust at some corner.

Other work innovations also had their heyday, like the pager that one attached conspicuously on a belt to show others how important you are.
There are some innovations and gadgets that have stayed. We may also become so used to them that we wonder how on earth we ever survived without them.

Take the mobile phone for instance. Some actually feel “naked” leaving the home without their mobile phone. Many have discarded the practice of wearing a wrist watch since the mobile phone can also tell us the time. And an office presentation is never delivered without the support of the Microsoft PowerPoint computer programme.

With each new gadget and device we have added into our lives, they replace something. Some replacements are welcomed. The housewife is not nostalgic about the washboard. I do not think that you will find many typists missing the typing ribbons or the carbon paper. Seldom do engineers miss their slide ruler, except as a quaint decorative office piece.

However, some of what has been displaced is less tangible and may have worth. Although it may be faster to look up a place on Google Maps, looking it up in an atlas has its merits too. We perhaps learn of its orientation to continents and countries and time zones.

Writing a letter to a friend by hand may mean that it takes more time, but pondering over the right words to use and exercising your penmanship conveys something of your character and feelings. The days of a family sitting together in their living room glued to their only Rediffusion set or black-and white television is now replaced with each family member in their own rooms plugged into their own entertainment device.

Some readers may think that I, being in my fifties, am only being nostalgic about the past. The truth is that I am not closed to learning and
innovation. However, I am worried that in our haste to embrace change, we are not mindful of what we are giving up. We may not be valuing enough what we have.

Our past, and the things and practices associated with it, forms our sense of identity. (I am deliberately using the past continuous tense.) Everything and every time we discard, we discard something of our past and, dare I say, of ourselves as well.

Of course we cannot keep everything. Those who attempt to do so develop the pathological habit of hoarding. When this happens, our present lives become crowded out by our past existence. There will be no room for growth and newness.

We need to strike a balance, as in so many things, between the past and the present. We need to have in our lives a place for things and practices from the past that are noteworthy, that are still of value.

Not everything new is necessarily better, nor is everything that speaks of efficiency and speed better than processes that require us to be patient and reflective.

So perhaps my old boss, now sadly deceased, had a point when he was so resistant to change and the fuss of rushing about.

Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.