Updated: Feb 29, 2020
Many moons ago I travelled to Japan. I was super-young being only 20 years old and one of my fondest memories was that of meeting Julie-chan, someone who would become a life-long friend. I got off the plane in Narita airport, was promptly overwhelmed and spotted the first Australian I could find and bummed a cigarette off her. The rest as they say, is history. Our time in Japan was filled with challenges such as being dirt poor while working six days a week and studying on our seventh day. Living in a tiny Japanese town where foreigners were still very much a novelty often could be daunting, but we discovered things such as vending machines that sold litre bottles of scotch and we survived. One of the things that I remember being the highlight of our days, weeks or months was the arrival of the mail-man. We shared our letters and re-read them a million times, listened to tapes made by one of Julie-chan’s crazy friends and gazed over photos from home like they were some sort of highly coveted drug.
We would almost get a surge of adrenalin when it was time for the mailman to arrive and the disappointment if there was no mail was palpable. However, on the days where we received mail, the joy we both felt bordered on exhilaration. The receipt of mail usually had to be celebrated with a visit to the magical scotch vending machine. The kids and I recently signed up to a DVD hire service. Due to the plan I am on with Telstra I have limited internet which I keep for work and any homework or schoolwork that the kids have. Rather than tackling Telstra any further as dealing with Telstra turns me into a veritable basket-case, I made the decision to suck it up and put my money where my mouth is. I do tend to go on about our modern-day reliance on gadgets and wi-fi so to have limited internet made me walk the walk rather than just bloody talking the talk. To be honest, we don’t miss it. We don’t stream but hire movies on the weekend as a treat. I love my television series, so I thought we would try a DVD hire service to see if it worked out cheaper than hiring movies.
Basically, how it works is that you pay a monthly fee and they send you a DVD, then when you finish it and return it they send another one. The first series I signed up for was Outlander. I am not going to wax lyrical about Outlander though I could for hours but suffice to say I was hooked. So as soon as I get my disc, I mark it as returned and generally watch it that night then post it back the next morning. Then begins the anxious wait for the next disc, which can be really agonising depending on what had happened in the last episode. I had been waiting for the final disc of season one for about a week when I heard the mailman. I do believe I literally squealed when I opened the letterbox and found the long-awaited disc. Rissie stood at the doorway on this day and looked at me like I was a puppy who was about to pee on her shoe and remarked that I really did love that show. Which I do. But waiting for something and being excited about the mailman reminded me of my days in Japan when the arrival of the mailman could mean unprecedented joy.
It also made me think about old-fashioned joys and how important they are. We live in a world where we can have a constant stream of whatever we fancy on whatever devices we choose to carry. Google Home and Amazon Echo are just making their presence felt in Australian homes and I am sure within a year or so most homes will have them. We experienced the original Amazon Alexa when we were house-sitting in the States. It was the first time in my travels that I felt truly provincial. When the lovely home owner pointed out Alexa and told us we could ask her things, I can remember looking at it sideways quite dubiously. Luckily a storm on Day Two took Alexa out as to be honest her voice unnerved me. I could not quite understand the point of her. If I want to play music I will play some music. If I want to find out what the weather is like, I will look outside and if I want to update my calendar I will write something in the diary. I don’t really fancy a machine that is hooked up to all my devices doing something for me. I don’t really get the point.
It makes me uneasy sometimes, as I think we are moving towards a world where we can experience everything from the comfort of our couch. And where we can get everything NOW! Alexa, do this for me, and do it now! One day machines will be hooked up to timed kettles, toasters, sound systems, huge screens and a million indispensable devices. We will be able to find out what the weather is like without ever going outside. We will be able to visit foreign cities through a virtual screen. If we hear of a new movie we can ask for Alexa to tell us what it is like before deciding whether we should go. There is such a need to fulfill our desires now.
Now we don’t wait. We stream. We can stream whole series in 24 hours. We can play our favourite music without saving up for the CD. CD? I suspect they are also now almost extinct with Spotify playing whatever you want, whenever you want it. We can virtually tour any bloody place we want.
I think not waiting can sometimes take the joy out of things. I know I don’t get out much, but that experience of waiting for the mailman brought back so many happy memories from an experience that was almost a lifetime ago. I wish more of us would step outside, feel the sun on our face, or smell the rain on the grass and think I know exactly what the weather is doing. Looking at something on a screen is not the same as experiencing it. Alexa might tell you it is below zero outside, but you can’t know how beautiful a winter morning can be until you are surrounded by frost in air that bites and a world that is so beautiful it hurts your soul. You might be able to do a virtual tour, but until you walk into the Florence Duomo and be moved to tears by the air, the smells and the sheer magnitude of it, you will never know how glorious it really is.
I am not saying that we should hold onto things that are defunct. That is just as ridiculous as lining up for the iPhone version 675 when your iPhone version 674 works just fine. The world is moving super-fast and sometimes I think we forget the simple pleasures that we leave behind.
I like waiting for the mailman. An old-fashioned joy, that reminded me of so much.