Yesterday my son signed up for a welding class and was explaining that, since he has his own equipment and has been welding (self-taught) for some time, the counselor will ask the instructor to provide more challenging material. It sounded like a good plan. Later, when my mind returned to ponder our conversation, I found myself thinking, “Welder? We didn’t move any welder!” Of course, I was picturing the massive welder that my father used to own; the one that took up a large percentage of the garage, and needed two men and a boy just to move it a few inches. Carrying it was out of the question! I began to wonder where my son could have ‘tucked’ a welder in this small place.
I discovered the answer this morning when I went to get something — and found that truly, there is a welder in a closet, as well as a large red welding helmet covered with wild flames. Out of shock and curiosity, I simply had to measure that machine: 9″ Wide by 12″ High by 17″ Deep. Quite a difference from that monstrosity in Dad’s garage!
I began to consider other ways that technology is bringing so many useful items down to sizes more manageable by people living in small quarters, or having more possessions than people used to acquire. I thought of my first microwave, and compared it to the little inexpensive, lightweight one that now does everything better and faster than that large, heavy, counter-hogging, expensive first one. I appreciate the “down-sizing” of household items.
I thought about the furnace in my childhood home, and the amount of space it occupied in a crowded basement, the noises it made, the dust it spewed. I compared that to the little boiler that heats our house. Our furnace is not much larger than my first microwave, and probably weighs less than that countertop appliance did. The tiny furnace certainly does a better job, and at much less expense, than the type that frightened small children and fainthearted ladies. I relived my childhood fears as Kevin reacted to the basement “monster” in Home Alone.
Coming from a home with a deaf sibling, and being a teacher of the deaf for so many years, has kept me observant of the changes in hearing aid technology. One of my college professors had a deaf sister and he explained that her first hearing aid rode around in a wheelbarrow, which she pushed in front of her as she walked. Many years later my brother’s first hearing aid was about the size of my digital camera and was worn around the belly in a harness that went up, over, and around the shoulders, crossing in the back. I remember the first over-the-ear hearing aid that I saw and thought a marvel! Now the aids snuggle into the ear and are far less conspicuous than eyeglasses. The technology is also far superior for the aids can be chosen, and adjusted, to increase only the frequencies that the deaf or hard-of-hearing person’s audiogram indicates are being missed by the individual. The old aids lacked flexibility and amplified every frequency equally. My grandmother refused to wear hers, for although it greatly helped her in conversation; the slam of a door somewhere in the house lifted her out of her chair.
Look at the televisions and radios of today then recall those of the past. Technology for aural and visual pleasure comes in every size and gets much better reception for the stations that the average user will need. Now, I will admit that there are some huge televisions out there these days, and I would not dare to lift the one that my teenage son chose and paid for himself (against Mother’s wishes, I might add). But nowadays you at least get more television for your money. In the past, as I peered into the back of the TV while Dad removed blown tubes and replaced them with new ones from a local store, it always seemed to me that we were getting more wood for our money!
Remember how heavy cook stoves used to be? When Grandmother needed a new one, there was an all-call to every uncle, neighbor and grown cousin who could come help haul the massive appliance to the barn (where it still resided fifty years later when I had to clear the farm for the estate sale.) Although the size of most stoves stays at 30″, the heft has not stayed the same. I appreciate that my new stove is lighter and easier to maneuver, but I do find it unsettling that it has to be anchored at the back to keep it from tipping forward if something too heavy is put on the oven door — say a large turkey or a small child. Appliance designers should turn their attention to making safer and more stable stoves without adding too much extra weight.
My aunt, who taught school for fifty years, still has one of the old style refrigerators with the rounded corners and the big, long handle that one pulls forward to unlatch the door. It is smaller than my frig, but probably heavier, and mine has many storage areas hiding inside, using space that was formerly wasted. It has many shelves in the door, and deep shelves inside the main box. In addition, mine has wheels that allow it to be rolled forward to enable me to clean behind the frig and vacuum the coils — for better efficiency and improved (lowered) energy usage. When growing up, we had one of those huge heavy ones. To move it was to move dead weight. Cleaning behind the frig was a project to do only when absolutely necessary. Once the frig was moved from its resting place, Mom would react very badly at the sight of all the dirt that had been hiding in her spotless house!
The list of items shrunken and improved by technological innovation continues, seemingly without end: fax machines, stereo equipment, computers, adding machines/calculators, food mixers, phones… Often these new marvels and new sizes make life easier and safer. Often, just the very action of shrinking things, especially household items, leads people to believe that they have room for all of the things that we used to manage quite nicely without, thank you very much.
I often think of some storage units in Colorado Springs named, “YOUR ATTIC." Maybe that is our problem — houses are no longer built with attics. The stuff has to go somewhere, and with the new, smaller sizes, even more will fit into a storage space. But the fun is gone for me. I loved digging through the farm attic to come up with great items for my first apartment; my first home. It just isn’t the same when a welder, for goodness sake, can go undetected in my small utility room.
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.