Recently, I read a book of household hints from 1951, and it got me thinking about how little of the advice was relevant to the way we live our daily lives in 2023.

Could I still use tips from a bygone era? Sure. If I had the luxury of spending my days laundering curtains, cooking hearty meals, baking pies, and sewing my own clothes, I would eagerly follow a lot of the book’s advice. Much of it was brilliantly thrifty and clever.

Sadly, though, it comes down to having enough time to do things properly instead of giving them “a lick and a promise.” I hate to admit it, but most of my curtains have been hanging so long that if I take them down now they’d probably disintegrate.

Reading that book of 1951 knowledge made me think, though, about how useless some of my own knowledge would be to a young person in 2023.

This seems to be a time when no one needs to actually know or remember anything. The phones we keep in our hands take care of most everything that used to be handled by our brains and a host of other handy but archaic things like maps, calendars, planners, calculators, stopwatches, flashlights, cameras, dictionaries, banks, watches, radios, televisions, and paper.

It’s great that we kill less trees for paper and have fewer appliances and gadgets creating clutter. I’m not so sure, though, that not having to know or remember things is so great.

I’m sure a scientist could weigh in on the brain’s need to “use it or lose it” when it comes to, say, being able to memorize things like phone numbers or the routes to take when driving to places in your own town. It used to drive me crazy that my sons refused to learn even a basic layout of the main roads when they drove to Lexington. I honestly don’t know to this day whether any of the three of them can read a map. Why should they when the car just tells them where to turn?

I’ll admit that I, too, have gotten lazy about maps, but I try to retain my memory skills. Hoping it’s good for me, I never rely on “speed dial” when phoning the people I talk to most frequently. I am pretty good at keeping birthdays and appointments in my head.

I do sometimes take technological shortcuts. I find myself texting more and more often. I can’t say that that’s a good trend. I tell myself that I’m texting so as not to bother someone, but if I’m completely honest, it’s often because I want to avoid “wasting” time in actual conversation. Now that I’ve typed that, it looks horrible.

I have been known to turn to a YouTube video when I’m trying to DIY a theatre costume or bake something unfamiliar. They’re wonderfully helpful. I learned to decorate Edwardian hats and how to make a hedgehog costume from YouTubers. When I made eclairs for the first time, it was a game changer to have a demonstration of exactly how choux paste should look dripping off a spatula.

Thanks to Google and Microsoft Word, I couldn’t tell you the last time I opened a dictionary, thesaurus, or encyclopedia. I still love the feel of a real book in my hands, though, and was alarmed to find out that my old college’s library had completely done away with their bound periodicals. This was a massive collection of hardbound journals and magazines that took up a huge room. I used to spend hours in a cozy chair doing research, a huge pile of those journals stacked beside me. I guess the contents of the bound periodicals are now stored in a cloud somewhere.

Nostalgia aside, there’s a lot to like about the convenience of technology, but it makes me wonder: if I’m saving so much time, why can’t I find a moment to follow a few bits of homemaking advice from my forebearers in 1951?

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