Friday, September 23, 2011

The More Things Change, the More They Change

Not too many people would compare the Netflix disaster to a former dance hall in a tiny town called Pipe, Wis., but I’ve been thinking about that old building a lot lately.

Because lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the frenzy of things changing faster than we can keep up with them.

And I don’t mean this in a cranky “get-off-my-lawn” kind of way. But just this week, I go away for a few days and Netflix becomes Qwikster, the entire college athletic landscape hung in the balance of some superpowers’ choices and I’m about to start my sixth job in six years (with the same company) because of the constant, exhausting change of the media landscape. And then, before the week is out, REM has broken up and “All My Children” goes away. (Facebook changes don’t count; that’s not news.)

So I think of the dance hall.

I think of the dance hall because my mom pointed it out on a road trip up north a couple years ago. There a building stood, worn by the weather and seemingly void of any human activity for decades.

“That’s where we would go to dances,” my mom said. We were on a trip to celebrate her birthday, to see the farm she grew up on, the house in town her family eventually moved to, to eat at the supper club her cousin opened 50 years ago and to attend Mass at the church she attended as a kid. It was a Memory for Mom trip, and the stories were flowing.

My parents both grew up in towns of about 200 or 300 people. Those are the kinds of places that are specks on the map now but were communities unto themselves in my parents’ youth. Towns of 200 or 300 had businesses. They had Main Streets. They had a store or two or three. They had dances. They had a life unto themselves that is gone in so many of these places.

As much as the stories were flowing on our road trip with Mom, I didn’t ask the follow-up question, setting aside my reporter skills because I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear the answer and I wanted to keep the memories upbeat.

“What is it like when everything you knew and loved is gone?”

I don’t mean people. That’s a whole different adjustment. And I don’t mean youth or energy. We all lose those.

I mean the things. The everyday things you think don’t really think about, just the things you love, you do, you share with people and one day are gone.

You know, like the video store. The record stores. The book stores big and small. A good old conference rivalry like Nebraska and Oklahoma. All those newspaper co-workers, those people who together we would change the world, kick some butt, do great work, raise our children together, grow old together but now mostly aren’t even in the same city anymore or even the same profession because it all changed before our very eyes.

It’s all part of life, I know. But lately it seems this stuff keeps coming fast and furious.

Yet I take comfort in the inanity of the Netflix CEO’s non-apology apology and the fact this company announced a wacky plan to split off, without even having a website ready for its new ancillary business. It was like it was just somebody’s idea the night before. Over too many beers. Or too many cans of New Coke.

I found it comforting that seemingly smart business people, with a company that has been pretty much batting 1.000 for the last few years are stumped, too. If things are changing too fast for the folks at Netflix to have a clue, I don’t feel so bad myself.

So I’ll take comfort here in the small town in which I grew up, which is very much alive and kicking. And I take comfort that it’s Homecoming at the high school today.

That means there’s a dance. I have no reason to go to the dance. But all in all, I’m sure glad it’s going to be there.