A 21st-Century Hangover

Do you ever feel like Rip Van Winkle?  You’ve imbibed a boatload of liquor, fell asleep, only to awaken years later to a remarkably changed world.

I toyed with another title for this column.  My second favorite, but way too long was, Debbie Downer, of Saturday Night Live fame marries the notorious Rip Van Winkle and soon thereafter gives birth to their first child, Woke.”

Imagine for the duration of this missive that you’re elderly, no, an “older adult,” in 2021.  The 1900’s seem to have disappeared at the blink of an eye.  Your cultural comfort zone has vanished.  You’re still getting used to writing the year, beginning with a two.

Just when you got used to a push-button phone after growing up with a rotary-dialer and a party-line; “oops, I’m sorry Jane and Tom, I just picked up to call Aunt Barb; how are your gardens doing…?”  You never liked those portable phones, everybody younger tried to foist onto you.  They felt in your hand like a toy.  Now you’re supposed to adapt to a cell phone.

If you stick to your guns and maintain your nearly obsolete home phone, now called a landline, you have to include what we knew as an area code even to call six houses down, which was always only needed for “long-distance” calls.

Today it’s an ordeal when you have to call a business to solve a problem.  It used to be that you asked the person on the other end of the phone a simple question, and you got a simple answer.  You didn’t need a PhD to find out why your TV cable stopped working and get it fixed.

We used to get local channels 10 and 6, Altoona and Johnstown.  Now we have to select a package or bundle of channels, or do we want something called streaming rather than “regular TV?”  We have a smart TV from which we can “get on the internet” and watch shows in “high definition or HD,” which means nothing to us.  But we have to use three remotes, one of which is voice activated, only if we use the right words, that we once called “clickers,” long after which we used to get up from the couch to turn the channel with a knob.  We have 100s of channel options of nothing worth watching.

Today, it’s hard enough to get a person to pick up the phone, let alone get an answer to our query from the first extension that we reach.  Then how do we discern which “department” we need connected to for our particular problem?

What was once professional journalism, studded with integrity and the five foundational questions of who, what, where, when and how, has changed into an opinion-infested, uber-politically-correct propaganda machine, complete with a loudspeaker called the internet and social media.

I’ve awakened to a civil war unlike any other observed in history.  History itself has been and is being rewritten because people don’t like it.  Divisions and stratifications between groups from families, genders, races, political parties, age-groups, and so on are the rule.  Agreement, even civility is hard to come by; rare commodities.

Language rules have changed too.  The basic constitutional right to free speech, has become a confusion on par with the tower of Babel.  “More” speech is a better description than “free” speech, these days.  But speech is policed by what is called a “woke” generation.  Have these arbiters of truth been asleep like me, but awoke a bit sooner to have obtained all the answers to the questions I’m still stewing over?

We’ve stopped policing violence, tolerating it as if it were justifiable, righteous indignation.  Criminals were rebranded as terrorists sometime while I was asleep.  Now they are defined as activists, fighting for social justice.  Is this the mother of all paradoxes, or what?

This world used to at least sort of make sense to ordinary people like me.  Can we even use the word nonsensical anymore?  Common sense was the norm when I was awake way back when.  Most people held in common a collective, sound, practical judgment concerning everyday matters; we shared a basic understanding and perception about how life was to be best lived.

Before I went to sleep, there was clear meaning in the world.  We understood one another, and feeling understood is key to mental health.  Way back when, things were far from perfect, but life seemed reasonable and negotiable, if not utopian.

Systems are now in place in every walk of life “to make things easier.”  Let me be one to inform you, “these things are not easier!”  From new and “improved” billing statements, and options to pay my bills; to that dumb voice-activated clicker, and hoops we have to jump through to prove our identity, unless we don’t have to prove it at all, life is nothing but more complicated, and is far from easier or improved.

One must practically be a professional sonogram technician to get any personal business done these days.  In fact, as an “older adult,” getting our first COVID vaccine we were instructed to come to the site with a bar code unique to us, provided in the email nailing down our appointment.  When we proudly mastered the bar code thingy, downloaded onto our cell phones, the lovely nurse at the door said, “you don’t need that, we think it was created by a millennial to test the cognizance of ‘older adults.’”  We laughed that tortured laugh, hard earned, and really really wanted to get that bar code that we mastered, scanned by somebody, anybody.

English novelist, George Orwell wrote a book called 1984, in 1949.  We thought back in my day that this book speaking to the future, was absurd.  Think again.

Our leaders point to a future of stress, sadness, doom and gloom even as they spend mind-boggling, unprecedented sums of money we don’t have, to save us from that uncertain future.  By the way what is Bitcoin?  There was a time when gold, silver and other tangible substances had to be vaulted to back up even paper money, but cyber money, oh my.

Many of us used to believe in a God who promised a future of hope, light, generosity, kindness.  It seems that stress, tension, fear and hate have usurped levity joy, gratitude and faith.

The old work-reward system has been replaced with a toil-for-gain, one.  Work had its satisfaction, i.e. “job well done.”  Toil, however, is drudgery, almost like slavery, and it hurts.  Rewards speak for themselves but gain implies greed, avarice, and inequity.  This is the new system.

Mental illness is treated like sex used to be back in my day.  It’s there, but we don’t talk about it.  Whoa baby has that changed.  Sex is nearly all ya’ll talk about, from what gender you “think you are,” of which there are now supposedly dozens, to what rich and powerful someone had sex with whom and was that sex, proper sex, explicit sex which is celebrated in no uncertain terms in popular culture; clandestine sex, abuse, rape, or something else altogether, certainly not sex.

Mental illness is rampant in this “woke” world.  The most “popular” mental illnesses, if you monitor the media, include substance or social addictions, depression, narcissistic personality disorders, sudden wealth syndrome, OCD, bipolar or what used to be manic-depressive disorder, and hundreds of other illnesses of the mind and emotions which are still in their “coming out” phase.

I read a book published in 2019 written by a therapist, about therapy.  She cautioned, “before diagnosing people with depression make sure they are not surrounded by assholes.”  Also, “today everybody moves at the speed of want;” and “change involves the loss of the old and the anxiety of the new.”

We used to read the Bible as our therapy before I went to sleep.  The future we were cautioned about, from 2 Timothy 3:1-5, suggested “terrible times of great stress” when people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, ungrateful, unforgiving, proud, without love, rash and conceited.”  Do you recognize these traits or is it just me because I’ve been sleeping for a while?

Because of this hangover, I can’t be certain that I will ever awaken enough to be labeled “woke.”  But I think an open mind will help in my adaptation to this rapidly changing world.

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