If it ain’t broke… and you know the rest; the motto long dismissed by trendsetters as a snuggy for the sullen, passive-aggressive Luddite resentful that his shortsighted and nearly antiquated vocation is threatened by the grand arc of innovation. And just how much sand has this little saying thrown in the gears of progress over the years? Not much in the decades since “technological” became the new “sexy.” Why, no one even wants to be the last person to get a new iphone (even if it is the same as the old iphone, sans a phone jack). Besides, that saying smacks of triteness on the order of “sticks and stones” – a stubbornly smug note of impotent defiance. It’s a sad little saying which does not benefit the sentiment, even when there’s valid cause for the sentiment – and sometimes, there decidedly is.
There’s good reason the term “old school” has come in vogue over the past few years. Lost in the whirlwind of advancement is a longing for the stayed and steady. It’s hard – if not mindnumbingly foolish – to rely on something that hasn’t had time or opportunity to weather any storms, whereas the tried and true, rough and tumble, cliché-inspiring equipment of yesteryear, while perhaps of a lower-order on the technology scale, is often still more than able to ‘get ‘er done’.
On the July 8th broadcast of Spotlight on the Sound, my guest Jerry Senner discusses his museum, the Western Heritage Center, where visitors can make rope, shell and grind corn, cut wood, wash clothes, and handle any number of other chores, using hand-cranked, gasoline- and tractor-powered devices, in some instances over one-hundred years old – but all workhorses nonetheless. This is the most salient characteristic of “old school” products and systems – they still work – just like that light bulb that’s been running now for well over a century. Try finding one of those at the local Walmart. It’s doubtful that many of today’s trendy gadgets hang around even twenty years from now, much less a hundred.
So maybe instead of simply pitching the appliances and methods we relied on prior to the cutting age discoveries of the last 5 minutes – we rather choose to honor them both for what they’ve contributed to society historically, and what they may still have to offer. Even if the “ain’t broke” bromide is squeezed white in the stubborn grip of technophobes, it also happens to be a justifiable standard held by the gatekeepers of grounded, revered and well-functioning systems. After all, it’s not required that something break before it’s improved upon… but when it’s old school, it just doesn’t break much to begin with.