November 14, 2014

I survived the 1980s. . . . .twice!

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 8:32 pm

I’ve almost made it through the 1980s. But I just cheated by checking the ArchaeoWife’s flight status online. Back then we would have the paper itinerary and would just go to the airport when it was supposed to arrive. If it was late, we sat there and waited. At some point we realized we could call the airline to check, which is better, but not like checking the flight status whenever you want. I would have called, but I would have sounded like a moron (or an old fart) calling up when I could check it online.

But otherwise, I made it through. Being out in the field the last couple of days was easier to make it through, although I was checking email and text messages quite often. I tried using the iPod today but it kept playing the same song over and over, so I quit. Was well-rested anyway, so I didn’t mind too much.

What did I learn this week? Well, I know why I drank so much, there was nothing else to do! Seriously, a couple of lessons, both applicable to archaeology actually. I’ve criticized ‘experimental archaeology’ a lot, the sort where a bunch of people decide they’re going to try to build a pyramid or a boat or whatever in two weeks or something like that. I’ve maintained that while it can kind of clue you in to some of the complexities of doing certain things, the time is too short to really learn how to do it with the tools and techniques of the day. It does well when a specific hypothesis is being tested, although most often that’s only a portion of the process and could just as easily be done in the lab.

Relevance to this: It was more difficult than I’d thought, largely because I soon realized that there were hundreds of little things that I’d forgotten about. I mentioned the bread situation earlier in the week, and also that we didn’t have Mr. Coffee Iced Tea pots so I hadn’t really drunk much iced tea back then — until I had one of these things to make it easily with. In essence, I didn’t have the infrastructure already in place that would have really let me work within the limitations of the 1980s. For example, I would have had a phone book handy, and I also would have known more off the top of my head about the way things work than I do now. Nowadays, if I need to know something I look it up on the Web. Back then, a lot of things I’d just make sure I knew about, like store hours and such.

I would have had a Walkman or whatever for work. I would have had whatever tapes I wanted to play on it. I would always have a watch on to know the time, instead of relying on my cell phone. I would know where to get coffee or soda if I needed it that didn’t involve a Starbucks. And who knows what else I’ve not thought of?

It’s that store of accumulated knowledge that makes a big difference, and it’s what is limiting about experimental archaeology: Unless you’ve spent years building, say, Viking ships, you wouldn’t really know the ins and outs of Viking ship building that the average Viking ship builder would have. It’s a lot of “knowing what you know” and also “knowing what you don’t know” and how to find out with the tools of the day. Or just being good with not knowing.

I guess the short way of saying that is, things don’t exist in a vacuum. When we didn’t have the Internet, we made sure to know most of the things we needed to know by asking other people or making things part of our general knowledge base. When we didn’t have cell phones and the Web, we made sure we had phone books around, or at least a lot of numbers close by. I remember setting our clocks by calling a certain number on the telephone, rather than looking at our radio-controlled clocks, or phone or computer. Who would know anything about that in a few hundred years?

So I’ve learned quite a bit, I think. I learned that I forgot an awful lot about what I was doing back then and how I was doing it, from the bread that I ate to how I made tea. I learned a few new/old exercises from the weight room that I’d quit doing for whatever reason; some I may integrate back into my workouts, though to be fair I may have dropped many of them because they were doing bad things to certain muscles or joints or whatever.

I also learned that I can actually survive daily life without obsessively checking Facebook and various web sites. I’ve been wondering for a while if I needed to start disconnecting a bit. I may even stay somewhat disconnected. Who knows, I might try to Live In The 1980s once a week just to remind myself of how good and bad we have it now compared to then.

I suppose the biggest difference is still computers and especially the Internet. So much is basically the same: We drive cars with gas engines (mostly) that are better, but largely the same; we still wash clothes in washers and dryers; still cook food on the stove, mostly the same stuff but with less seasonality; we (or at least I) exercise by moving a bunch of cast iron around; we watch a box with pictures and sound; etc. But now we have instant access to virtually any sort of information you could ask for, from “What time is the hazardous waste station open?” to academic papers (given the proper access), to recipes for just about anything, to videos from whenever, to any number of guitar chords for almost any song ever written, etc. etc. etc. All this week I’ve seen something and wanted to “look it up”; but I couldn’t. The name of a song on the radio. A book that I wanted to read (Hawthorne’s “The Custom House”). Info on valerian root. Now we take it for granted if you want to know something, you can search for it on the Web. Send email to nearly anyone. Post a photo on Facebook for your family and friends to see. That, I think, is both a quantitative and qualitative change.

The things I really missed or would miss if I really had to Live In The ’80s again:
– Streaming music (aka, Pandora).
– Caffeine free diet soda.
– Mr. Coffee Iced Tea maker
– Being able to search for anything on the Web

Things I really miss about the ’80s:
– Actually hanging out with people more of the time (preferably with lots of beer)
– Being able to talk to people at the gym without earbuds in their ears
– MTV with VJs playing videos and telling us something abut the bands
– Wordperfect 5.1!

Oddly, I had a really difficult time with that last part. I’ve always looked nostalgically back at the ’80s, but thinking about it. . . . I guess I don’t miss “The ’80s” so much as I miss the person I was in the ’80s.. Hmmmm. That shouldn’t surprise me but it kind of does.

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