New and Improved

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Perhaps time has passed me by, or maybe I am just wired to be a cynic. In any case, if I learned anything over the course of my adult life it is that when something is sold as new and improved, it just means it is more complicated. Yes, I am not a big fan of technology, but I see enough good in what it has to offer to know it is necessary.

But this is not an article about only technology. It’s about our culture. We have a propensity to change what is not broken and, in the process, make us jump through hoop after hoop to realize doing something the old way was working just fine. Why does everything have to be new and improved? Most of what is sold as new and improved is not purchased by the average consumer, let alone needed.

We sell new and improved goods because our culture relies on economic growth. Apparently, this doesn’t happen without new stuff. How do you sell new stuff? Make buyers think it is an improvement on their old stuff.

Slick advertising lays the gloss on new things so we end up parting with what was perfectly good so we can keep up with the Jones’. Inevitably, we run up debt and remain glued to jobs that grow old and stale while allowing us to continue buying what is new and shiny. It’s made hamsters out of most of us who continue running to make the economic wheel turn.

There was an era when American built products were designed to last a long time. Now they are built with the idea of getting us hooked on something so when it breaks, or worse, just lacks a little luster, we run out and buy a new one. The ultimate addiction is a cell phone. Anything that involves having the world at our fingertips seems to be easily tossed aside for the next iteration.

The Merry-Go-Round at the Santa Monica Pier still works good (Tim Forkes)

You don’t see hard work sold as something worth possessing. In fact, we sell one app after another designed to offer us a service to do just about anything we don’t want to do even though a generation or two ago we did it ourselves and took pride in knowing we did. Now it has become a source of embarrassment to do hard work at any age. Hell, it’s almost embarrassing to cook a simple meal for the family to enjoy.

For 30 years, I was a middle and high school teacher. I lost track of the number of times some higher ups who never set foot in a classroom reinvented the wheel we call teaching. There were textbooks with lots of pictures and little information sold to replace ones with long and informative chapters. Of course, they came with the accompanying materials like workbooks, film catalogs, and posters and maps to put up on the classroom walls.

Eventually, we saw a flood of computer programs with built in lesson plans and multimedia presentations all designed to lighten the teaching load. I knew it was time to retire when I heard a couple of new teachers complain about their curriculum not including lesson plans. Apparently, they earned their teaching credentials without having to know how to write one.  They also didn’t like the idea they would have to grade assignments because there was no program that allowed students to do their work on a computer and receive instant grades that were automatically entered into the teacher’s corresponding gradebook.

In education, new and improved is just another way of selling overpriced programs to tax funded schools to replace previously overpriced programs. They come with a bunch of required in-service meetings where teachers piss and moan about the changes being unnecessary and how teaching was better when they were starting out.

Change is a constant, but it often comes with more oversight that is often paid too much and results in lots of head scratching. I remember a nearby school district announcing that because of the size of their schools and all the requirements of running them, they were going to assign two principals for every school. Imagine that; two leaders to blame. There are not any jobs I can think of that carry more responsibility than being the President and we still have only one at a time for the gig.

Football is far more complicated today as it becomes new and improved. Teams used to have a head coach and two or three assistant coaches. Now they have as many as twenty assistant coaches, a full medical staff, and even guys to let the air out of footballs. Head coaches have a general manager who has an assistant GM. The team president has an assistant as well. There is also the expert on the salary cap as well as a scouting department. All need to be on the same page which happens about as often as we see Halley’s Comet appears in the sky.

Vince Lombardi Trophy
(Claudia Gestro)

Vince Lombardi used to handle all of that. He once excused himself in the middle of a meeting with a player who brought an agent with him to discuss a pay raise. When Vince returned, he told the player he was just traded to Cleveland. There was no running it past a team of guys paid to oversee this or that. It took just a simple phone call. Vince ran the show, and in the process managed to win three straight world championships.

Try shopping for a tool to replace the one that finally wore out. It’s not there, but you can count on twenty alternatives, each with a special this or that, but none that do all the things the last one did. They all seem to have a laser line to follow because who wants to be bothered using a pencil to make their own?

The grocery store is horrifying, at least for me. Cereal, dog food, bread, chicken, and milk all come with an unlimited number of choices that make it impossible to choose. Mostly, this is because you can never find the original product. New and improved is just more stuff you don’t want. Low fat, sugar-free, zero calorie, extra calcium, and fiber. Everything must have fiber in it because we finally got tired of everything having extra calcium.

Cars are insane. At least now they make driverless, or hands free, cars so someone like me can just sit and wonder what the hell all these bells and whistles do when really all I wanted was something to replace the car I have been driving the previous ten years.

I went to my pain clinic the other day. I never see my doctor when I go there. He only performs procedures when that time comes. I did see one of the three women who work the front desk. That was followed by the med tech who took some information while checking my blood pressure. Then came the physician assistant along with his assistant. One talked to me while the other took notes. Next came another woman who handed me a cup to pee in before finally seeing someone who set me up with my next appointment. Who needs friends? Just go to a doctor’s office and you will meet all sorts of people.

I am at an age where I need plenty of new and improved parts. Replacing hips and knees are no longer a big deal. I could also use new shoulders and elbows. My wrists are not far behind, and I do not dare see a neurosurgeon because they want to give me a new spine. The Six Million Dollar Man is now possible, only it will cost two or three times that amount. It all depends on what sort of health insurance you carry.

There is so much to choose from at local stores, like Costco (Claudia Gestro)

HMO, PPO, and probably HBO are some of the types of coverage offered. There is bronze, silver, gold and even platinum plans. Do I go with 70/30, 80/20, or 90/10 coverage? I am close to the age for Medicare, but that requires one or two supplemental plans. It all depends on how many specialists I need because one doctor is not enough. As soon as we see our primary physician, they are telling us we need to see a specialist. A nice doctor will provide you with a list of fifteen doctors to save you time from searching the 112 in your area who specialize in whatever it is you need.

My dad was a general practitioner and general surgeon back in the day. He hung it up in the mid 80’s because it was decided then doctors needed a specialty. It got to the point we had so many specialists thanks to new and improved medical care we ended up with a shortage of general practitioners, or family doctors. All these specialists resulted in more diseases, more medications, and more money out of our pockets. And for what? Today, we are unhealthier than ever.

Our kids’ test scores seem to indicate we are dumber than ever. Our tools break with greater frequency and cost more to replace. Football tickets cost an artificial arm and a leg to help pay for all the salaries teams carry. Houses must be bigger and cost more because we need larger walls for all the TV’s that grow bigger every year. Refrigerators are apparently smarter, but we are so dumb we keep upgrading them to hold all the food we have delivered to our homes, so we do not have to get inside our driverless cars and go to the grocery store to navigate our way through the endless aisles in search of new and improved food.

I don’t know about you, but I find all this new and improved stuff old, like me.