If It Ain’t Broke…
There seems to be a new way to do things, faster, better, smarter, every year now. Innovation and disruption are essential. They move us forward, and for a freelancer they are imperative to adopt as part of your mindset. But with every change, with every step forward, there seems to be an equal effort to stay in place or go backward. This is a natural reaction. Change is scary, especially at the speed it’s happening nowadays. Although it may be against our instincts, sometimes that resistance to change is correct. Sometimes the old way of doing things is actually the better way. Change is unstoppable, but it isn’t always positive. We often assume, especially in the world of work, that the future will automatically be more efficient, more productive, and just generally better. There are plenty of things worth holding on to. As long as you aren’t averse to change, there’s nothing wrong (and a lot right) with staying in place.
The first word that may come to mind when thinking about the value of “old” stuff is vintage. Just the word vintage has become associated with high value. We’ve come to love vintage things whether it’s clothing, furniture, or hobby items like books and vinyl records. What makes something vintage is of course trivial, but buying vintage can lead to some very beneficial habits. Buying vintage is another way to say recycling. We live in a very throwaway culture and when things are no longer to our liking for whatever reason, we throw them away. With vintage, that trash becomes someone else’s treasure, and people often value their vintage pieces like treasure. Putting greater value on our things leads us to fixing them when they break rather than throwing them out, and throwing fewer things out means buying fewer things.
When it comes to items like books or vinyl, it isn’t a surprise that in our rapid world, we seek items that slow us down. Music and prose have become multitasking items. We hear music in the car or while we’re shopping and with the rise of podcasts and audio books, it seems we consume nearly all media during a commute. A physical book or a vinyl record forces you to focus your attention on one thing. Since humans aren’t actually able to multitask, when we focus on one thing, we are able to both understand it and enjoy it more.
OLD HABITS DIE HARD
When it comes to your personal routines and patterns, change faces the most uphill battle. You could talk about a need for change all day, and yet when you’re told to type things out whether than write them down, you hold on for dear life. This is not an excuse to resist change, but in some circumstances, it may be best you continue to kick it old school. Communication is a perfect example of innovation gone awry. The cold and idle way we communicate in the 21st century is no substitute for the rich and more complex connection that humans are used to. Technology has allowed us to talk instantly with people across the globe, and as amazing as that is, it has changed too much of how we talk with each other. We’ve given too much ground to the function of communication and not the form. There are of course technologies that have better adapted to the form of conversation. Zoom has become an essential tool this past year and thank goodness it existed. Human beings are only going to spread out further across the world and we need machines that don’t compromise something as fundamental as connection.
One day there may be a machine that does everything better, but until then, don’t feel you need to compromise old habits just for the sake of modernity. You don’t want to become too inconvenient to others, but there are plenty of “antiquated” preferences that are in no way inconvenient (in fact they can be more convenient than newer preferences). Continuing to write notes with a pen, insisting on phone or video calls instead of texts, or chatting in person rather than slacking are all valid pursuits that you should not give up on if you don’t want to.
The past is also a great place to look for inspiration and much needed context. As change comes faster and faster, we look to the future more and more. When the future always feels like tomorrow we can’t help but worry, anticipate, or generally fixate on what’s to come. There certainly are people whose job it is to constantly think about the future (scientists, politicians, inventors, etc.) But this is not most people, nor should it be. Sure, think about the future sometimes, but it does not behoove you to dwell on it. The past, though far from clear, we know much more about and so can use much more accurately. Perhaps the best way to calm oneself down when stressing over our seemingly chaotic world is to look to the past. History is, for better or worse, cyclical, and putting current circumstances in context can help minimize today’s drama. We can use that same cyclical nature to better predict the future. You can never really predict anything so don’t get your hopes up, but one of the better ways to prepare for, say a general change in your industry, is to look to the past. Many have looked to the aftermath of the Spanish Flue pandemic 100 years ago to plan for the aftermath of our current one, and they aren’t fools for doing so. If you feel the need to plan or prepare in some way, the past may be the better direction to look.
Sometimes it pays to be the cranky old man.