Why Older is Sometimes Better


It is undeniable that we have come a long way with modern technology, which has, in many ways, made life easier. At the same time, it feels like we are moving at lightning speed and everything is fleeting.

Looking at the past and comparing it with the present can sometimes really put things into perspective. Do you still remember what it was like before you could look up the answer to any imaginable question on Google? When you had to go to a travel agent and look at actual brochures and catalogues to plan your next vacation instead of simply opening TripAdvisor on your iPhone? 

Spoiler alert: this article is written by someone who grew up in the 1980s and 90s and therefore, might be slightly nostalgic about those long-gone days. Only slightly, of course.


Snail Mail vs. Email

When I was 13, I moved with my family from Germany to Japan. The only way to keep in touch with my friends was by sending them letters because long-distance phone calls were too expensive. Therefore, I spent many hours writing letters before walking down to the post office to mail them. It took between three to five days for a letter from Japan to Germany, and two to three weeks to Indonesia. In return, I always came home after school with a thrill of anticipation: sometimes, I’d receive up to six or seven letters a day. 

Emails are much more convenient: you quickly type your message, click on the “send” button, and almost instantly, it is delivered to the recipient. It’s a fast way to communicate and it’s also environmentally-friendly. I couldn’t live without emails, especially not at work.

But sometimes, I still resort to paper and pen to send letters and postcards to my friends, my parents, my sister: a handwritten note shows them that I care. To this day, I have a large collection of stationery at home, from unique letter sets and coloured pens to a stack of birthday and Christmas cards. I may not use them as often as before, but I find it strangely comforting to have them in my drawer.


Books vs. E-reader

As long as I can remember, I have always loved to read. Without the possibility to immerse myself in books, my life would lack a lot of colour. Ask me what I want for my birthday or Christmas, and I will always say “new books” (in addition to “my own pony or horse”, but my parents never yielded to my desperate pleas). 

An e-book reader is practical, for sure. Gone are the days when we had to carry around heavy books, or face the agony of choosing just one or two novels to bring on our vacation. I gave into temptation and bought one a while ago, but I should have known better. It’s now sitting on one of my shelves, gathering dust, while I still buy physical books to add to my ever-growing collection. There is simply something magical about leafing through the pages, to actually feel the paper between my fingers and to carefully place a bookmark on the page before taking a break. 


Public phones vs. Smartphones

At the age of 13, I had a crush on this boy. He was one year older than me and had once asked me for a slow dance. My friends persuaded me to call him and ask him to go to the movies, so I took up all my courage, used the public phone next to the post office, looked for his number in the phone directory and dialled. He politely declined - and that was the end of our story. However, I will never forget that feeling of anticipation, the nervous tingling in my fingers and the fear that my heart would explode in my chest while I was standing in that phone booth. 

Now, we don’t have to call someone’s home anymore. We simply use our smartphones to send Whatsapp messages. It’s easier, yet also less exciting and often even annoying. Everyone is reachable at all times and glued to their phones. 

Of course, having a smartphone is extremely practical. One time, one of my best friends picked me up from the train station and on the way to my house we ran out of gas. It was a Sunday and the nearest gas station was closed. With no smartphones available at that time and no public phone nearby, we walked up to a random house and asked if we could use their phone. My friend called his father, and he came to rescue us. Such a scenario would be almost impossible today - but again, it is a memory I wouldn’t want to have missed for the world.


Library vs. Internet

It’s so easy these days to look up something - anything, really. “I’ll Google it”, is the default reply to any question we don’t know the answer to.

During my high school days, it was common to go to the library when working on assignments. I very much enjoyed walking through the different sections, looking for certain books and then sitting at one of the tables, making notes. There was something meditative about the whole process. Researching something online is anything but. 

However, being able to use the Internet at any given moment for research purposes has made life so much easier. It would have been a blessing to use the Internet when I was still in school. I’m glad I can at least use it in my work life.  


VHS vs. Netflix

When I was still living in Japan, there were only a few TV shows that were screened in their original language. Not far from our house, next to the train station, was a video rental store where one could find literally anything, from comedies to dramas, action films to TV series. Of course, the titles and descriptions were all in Japanese, so my visits to the store usually took quite a while as I had to decipher all the Japanese characters. Sometimes, I’d choose a movie based on the pictures on the VHS cover alone - using this method, I was lucky enough to watch some real hidden gems, but also some truly cringe-worthy films.

Today, we have Netflix and TV on demand, and boy, am I grateful for that! I never have to miss an episode of my favourite TV show anymore, I don’t have to remember to rewind the VHS to the beginning again before returning it, and better yet, no more late fees.


Tapes and CDs vs. Online Music Streaming

I remember making mixtapes for friends and boyfriends, carefully selecting songs that would convey my message to them (“I miss you”, “I am in love with you”, “You’re my best friend forever”) and coming up with cover art. 

I also fondly remember how exciting it was when my favourite musicians released new albums. When Lenny Kravitz’s “5” was unleashed on the world, I woke up extra early, took the train to go to my favourite CD store and waited patiently until it opened. With the new album in my backpack, I went back home, listened to it immediately while studying the CD booklet - the lyrics, the Thank You notes, the photos. 

Who does that nowadays? Hardly anyone. Online music streaming is readily available. Again, it is practical, but it has somewhat taken the art and romance out of listening to great tunes. 

PS: I still buy Lenny Kravitz’s CDs.


Playing Outside vs. Online Gaming

When I was still in elementary school, we lived in a small German village with a population of 3,000. I happily spent a lot of my time on a nearby farm in the midst of pigs, cows and horses, or wandering through the fields, sometimes stealing sugar beets to give my favourite horse a treat. 

In high school, my ex-boyfriend was one of the first to have a PlayStation, and it was a big deal. We spent a lot of time playing Cool Boarders, but never went overboard. When I go to restaurants today, I often see families sitting at a table, but they don’t talk to each other. The parents are on their phones, while the children play games on their tablets. Why even bother going out together? 

Of course, it is crucial that today’s generation of kids grows up with a fundamental understanding of technology. But sometimes it is nice to let them play in the parks and gardens too: so, dear parents, just once in a while, take that iPad away from your kids!


Photo Album vs. Instagram

I have a whole collection of photo albums from my childhood, my youth, my travels. They are rather bulky and take up a lot of space on my book shelves. At some point, I stopped using my beloved Fuji camera and began snapping pictures on my phone. A little while later, I started to use Instagram. Out of all social media platforms, Instagram is my favourite. I simply love seeing beautiful, funny or artsy photos and am happy to share mine with my followers and friends.

Of course, there was something intriguing about picking up your photos at the shop, looking at them one by one, laughing about unexpected candid shots and rolling your eyes over the ones that didn’t turn out well. But on Instagram, I have them all in one place - and both my book shelves and I are grateful.

This article was first published in the January 2018 issue of NOW! Jakarta magazine.