Two things happened this week that made me stop a bit and reflect on how life once was not too long ago, what it’s becoming, and what we can do to maybe return to a somewhat better time – at least in our individual daily or weekly practices.
The first event was learning of the passing of Russell Hiatt, the local man who came to be known as the real-life Floyd the Barber from “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Though I never had my hair cut in his Main Street barbershop, I’m like thousands of other people who visited there a couple of times, chatting with him for a few minutes, just to see the man many believed inspired the Floyd character on the show.
The shop was much like one I often visited during my growing up years, when my dad and I would get our hair cut at the shop owned and operated by a long-time family friend, who ran his own barbershop in the evenings and on Saturdays, apart from his regular daytime job. After he stopped cutting hair, Dad and I went to another barbershop that was similar, though a bit larger in scope with two barbers and two chairs. Both places, however, the experience was often the same: lots of joking and laughing, idle conversation, occasional pauses, all of which was set to the background of the low hum of electric clippers or the snip-snip-snip of scissors.
The world seemed a little slower then. People worked hard while they were on the job during the day without Internet or cell phones or texts to distract them. They came home and attended to their family in the evenings or weekends, and squeezed in lawn care, some television (when most of us had all of two or three TV channels from which to choose), visited friends, went to church. On warm spring and summer evenings, there was always plenty of sitting on the porch, simply enjoying the quiet.
The second event that happened that day? I pulled into a convenience store to fill my car up with gasoline (and I really did need a fill-up, given that I was on my last gallon in the tank). As soon as I pulled the nozzle from the gasoline pump, this display screen on the pump lit up, and I was assaulted by some faceless recorded voice nearly screaming at me about a special on coffee or biscuits or something inside the store. Okay, it wasn’t really screaming at me, but the volume on the thing rivaled what the front row of an AC/DC concert must sound like.
After the voice told me about all the great, wonderful specials on food being sold inside, the screen turned to some commercial – yep just like a television commercial, with video and way-too-loud audio blaring from the speakers.
About the time the little meter on the gasoline dispenser hit $5, I had had enough. I turned off the fuel pumping into my car, replaced the nozzle and left. I filled up at another station. Maybe I overreacted, but I was pumping gasoline, deep in thought, and I didn’t want to be verbally assaulted by some obnoxious, loud electronic voice.
Those two events, that close together, got me to thinking about how such in-your-face commercialism seems to invade every nook and cranny of our lives today.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with commercialism in and of itself. If we weren’t an advertising, business-driven society, your monthly Internet bill would be fives times what it is (at least); you’d be paying 10 times what you do now for newspapers and magazines; we’d all be paying significantly more for television – either through direct billing by TV stations and cable networks or through higher taxes used to subsidize broadcasting; and we never would have had the pleasure of the television show “Mad Men.” Virtually every aspect of our lives would be different, and not always for the better.
But enough is enough.
Of course, that’s easy to say, but in an increasingly commercial-driven society, what does one do to slow down the onslaught? I mean, other than refuse to go back to the obnoxious gasoline pumps?
Simply turn it all off. Not permanently, but at selected times. Try putting the smart phone away for an evening – or weekend. Step away from the computer and television and read a book one or two evenings every week. Maybe spend a couple of hours each week on a porch swing or rocking chair (again, with no cell phone, tablet, or computer within earshot).
I know I’m going to give those ideas a try. That doesn’t change the fact that there will be a hundred texts, emails and loads of advertising awaiting me when I turn it all back on, but maybe an hour or two away from it all each week will make the rest more bearable.
Except for the gasoline pumps. I really don’t like the loud gasoline pumps.
John Peters is editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected].