by Cristina Daura.

‘Just As I Learn Something New, It Becomes Obsolete’

Carly Schwartz
Sep 21, 2015 · 7 min read

[A note from the Editor]

This week, Medium, in partnership with Guardian Life, is starting a project dedicated to collecting wisdom.

Elsewhere on the Internet, the particular genre of life lessons can often devolve into pedantic listicles and trite, aphoristic generalities. But we wanted to go beyond the obvious — beyond self help and life hacks.

And so, we mined the overlooked sources all around us — grandparents who’ve lived a lifetime, moms who’ve been through child-rearing several times over, couples who’ve understood the secrets of marriage and others. Too often, we don’t have access to this wisdom — their insights become buried under the mundane humdrum of everyday life. The question we wanted answered was this: What does it look like to live life in its greatest embodiment?

We’ve tried to use experimental formats and engineered unusual interactions to draw out funny anecdotes, poignant pieces of advice, and practical wisdom that would’ve otherwise stayed hidden from us. Our stories will take a variety of forms — from online chats between a granddaughter and her grandmother, to a story from a mother and daughter traveling the world together, to graphic novels, and more.

We’re kicking off with a series we’re calling Gchats with Grandma. Carly Schwartz, former Deputy Editor of The Huffington Post, will engage her grandmother, columnist Marian Mundy-Hooper (known as Mimi), in a set of Gchats traversing a range of topics — technology, women in the workplace, happiness, and contentment. Carly says Mimi has offered her many valuable life lessons — from how to write concisely to identifying Latin suffixes; from learning which plants are safe to eat straight out of the ground to making a perfect pinch pot out of clay. Now, the rest of us have access to Mimi’s wealth of knowledge too. And who knows, maybe it’ll inspire you to Gchat your grandparents.

Carly: It’s pretty cool that I taught you how to Gchat with me. You’re a fast learner.

Mimi: Beyond cool indeed. You’re wrong about the fast learner part, however.

Carly: Well, it happened in less than 29 minutes, according to the call log.

Mimi: I don’t even know what a call log is. Sounds like something used to start a fire in a mountain cabin.

Carly: A pixelated mountain cabin, perhaps?

Mimi: Do you mean ‘pixelated’ as in ‘pixels’ or ‘pixilated’ as in ‘drunk?’

Carly: ‘Pixilated’ as in ‘drunk’ is not something the kids are saying. Is that what you used to say?

Mimi: ‘Pixilated’ is an old-fashioned term which may date back to the Victorian Age. Probably invented by some English writer. You could look it up. ‘Pixels,’ on the other hand, are relatively new to the general public.

Carly: Well, while we’re on the topic of pixels, perhaps I should start with my technology question…

Mimi: OMG, must you? I hear the word technology, and it makes me groan mightily. But okay, if you must, let’s talk tech. Except at my age I have nothing to say.

Carly: I’m literally laughing out loud. Though I read today that nobody says LOL anymore in the age of emojis.

Mimi: Ay yi yi! Wot-the-heck are emojis?

Carly: Don’t worry about it.

Mimi: Ohhh…you mean emoticons? I use them all the time. But can’t we still be LOL?

Carly: You know, I’m one of the only people I know with a grandparent on Facebook.

Mimi: My dear girl, think about what the expression ‘one of the only’ means. It’s one of my pet peeves. It’s basically meaningless. What you really mean is ‘the only’ or ‘one of the few.’

Carly: I am the only person I know whose grandma uses Facebook.

Mimi: BRAVO! Excellent. You got it.

Carly: What you lack in technological expertise you make up for in grammar lessons.

Mimi: I told you my dad corrected our grammar on his deathbed. Runs in the family. Can’t help it. Had to join NA: Nitpickers Anonymous.

Mimi: My father also used to say that all the major inventions of the modern age took place during his lifetime. He meant the motor car, the airplane, electrification of cities and rural areas, huge dams, radio, television, movies. He died in 1953. He could not have envisioned a man on the moon, space travel, or the personal computer.

Carly: And look where we are now. Is it hard for you?

Mimi: Old people aren’t as techno-klutzy as you think. I have many friends with iPhones. But the iPhone is really hard for me. All those teensy weensy app icons! Dozens of them!! So cluttered it looks like a picture puzzle.

Carly: You don’t have an iPhone, though, right?

Mimi: I took the plunge and went from a clamshell geezerphone to a moderately challenged single-piece geezerphone. It’s a couple steps below a smartphone and I’m so pleased with myself that I almost know how to work it.

Carly: What’s been the hardest for you to learn how to use?

Mimi: I have had a lot of trouble with the GPS Nancy [my daughter] gave me. It wants you to know an exact street number if you want to find a shopping center. Although your cousin says GPS is outdated now and everyone uses their cell phone to get around. I guess what’s hardest for me in today’s world is that just as I learn some new thing it becomes obsolete.

Carly: Has it always felt that way?

Mimi: The funny writer, Jean Kerr, said something like that back in the late 50s or early 60s, when hair styling gadgets changed. When blow drying came out, she lamented, “But I just learned how to use rollers!” Rollers had replaced pin curls right around then.

Carly: What do you miss most from your lifetime that’s now obsolete?

Mimi: I miss my crazy Auntie Emma. You would have loved her. She was a spiritualist, para-normal vegetarian and school nurse, known locally as a character, a perpetually curious person who left little handwritten notes hidden around her apartment to be found after her demise.

Carly: Did you ever find one?

Mimi: She campaigned against smoking in the 1940s. Propped up in her china cabinet, in her spidery handwriting, was this one: Tobacco is a noxious weed / And so, dear friends, I humbly plead / Don’t nauseate me with its fumes / While visiting within these rooms. A four-line poem.

Carly: You have the most amazing memory.

Mimi: I make it a point not to remember anything important, such as where I left my glasses. Which is why I have room for lots of totally useless information.

Carly: [insert laughing emoji]

Mimi: Here’s why I remember things. We were taught to memorize in school. This is what I HATE about modern education. Kids are no longer memorizing poetry, or anything else, because technology makes it so they don’t have to. If you want a good memory, learn to capture knowledge by memorizing. We not only had to memorize poems, we had to get up in front of the class and recite them back. In the fourth grade, Mrs. Ruprecht gave us the infinitive form, “to see.” And we would yell back, “See, saw, has have or had seen.” That way you never forget it. Memorization is a very useful technique. Without it, your brain cells die.

Carly: You used to make me do the has, have or had thing when I was a kid!

Mimi: For centuries, the only way to pass on knowledge was orally. There was no writing or reading. And so they memorized whole sagas, the entire culture of a tribe. We have totally lost that ability, and that, to me, is a real tragedy.

Carly: Maybe your classroom is a metaphor for the problem you were describing with modern technology. Maybe things become obsolete so fast because nobody has the capacity to pay attention to anything long enough to make it stick. Society could benefit from a few Mrs. Ruprecht lessons.

Mimi: That is very profound of you, and way over Mrs. Ruprecht’s head. I think she was mainly concerned with us learning the principal parts of a verb. Then again, I constantly feel like I’m gasping for breath under an avalanche of new technology.

Carly: Do you think we’re totally screwed? Or do you think it’s possible for us to use some of these ever-changing technologies for good?

Mimi: I don’t think you can answer that in an either-or way. Of course it’s possible to use technology for good. And of course it’s already being done. Look at robotic surgery, and so many other new medical techniques. But of course, as you say, we’re probably screwed too. So the correct answer is: both. Is there a check box for both?

Carly: I suppose nothing is completely black or white, even if it’s easier to understand the world that way.

Mimi: I kinda have to go. Neddie is getting antsy.

Carly: Okay. But I have so much left to ask you!

Mimi: Hey, you never even told me what emojis were!! Are these them? �

Carly: More or less. LOL. Let’s talk again soon.

Mimi: I love this. It’s SO FUN! xxxx oooo

The Life Well Lived section is sponsored by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.

Life Well Lived

Launched in partnership with Guardian Life, this is a publication dedicated to collecting wisdom

Carly Schwartz

Written by

I’m the editor-in-chief of Google Insider. Former HuffPost SF & deputy national editor, Kiva fellow in Mexico City & founder of the Kalu Yala Media Lab.

Life Well Lived

Launched in partnership with Guardian Life, this is a publication dedicated to collecting wisdom

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