“Once upon a time”….as shocking as it may seem in this second decade of the 21st Century, there was no internet, no Windows 7,8 or 10, no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – no whatever the “social media du jour” might be. In this time when not having access to WiFi on a flight can cause a state of near panic to “millennials,” a friendly reminder from an elder: People “in the old days” – say before about 1990 – did survive and communicate and have friends – even friends they knew “in person”.

Attention! New date for the World Cleanup Day 2018 is 15th of September (ed: 22.02.2017)!

They had coffee or lunch, or just walked and talked. They asked, “What’s new with you?” and genuinely wanted to know, because they hadn’t already learned that via an email or tweet or Facebook. They looked forward to chatting about everyday life, their families, mutual friends, work, politics, good books (with pages, no re-charging required); they “solved all the problems of the world”, picked up on looks or sighs or smiles that often spoke much louder than words – or e-communication – could ever provide. They sat around kitchen tables, often with dinner simmering away in the background, speaking in whole paragraphs – sometimes interrupted by a child’s question or a pet’s need to be let out or in – rather than by a mobile phone. And while many of us “old folks” do use social media and appreciate the often life-saving convenience of those phones, there are things we miss about pre-digital days.

We remember when we could “stop in” to ask a friend or neighbour something like, “Has the bookstore moved yet?” or “What time is the concert Friday,” and receive a simple answer, face-to-face, without a reminder – sometimes even by pre-schoolers! – that we could “just google it.” Yes, Google is terrific – but honestly, sometimes we miss the interaction that adds a human touch to the day. Efficiency is…efficient, but does not always enchant.

A true story, circa 1940. I can still recall the day my Uncle Edward, who lived on the U.S. East Coast, got a phone call from his cousin traveling in the West. “I can hear her,” he said, stretching the words out with a near sense of awe – “all the way out there in California.” And as “quaint” as that may seem to a world that has since heard Neil Armstrong speak from the moon, that is still something of a marvel. So, of course, are many of the advances that we never stop to think about!


“I get in…and it goes.” Uncle Ed with his car. Video still taken by author.


Decades later, in 1992, my son moved to Estonia with the U.S. Peace Corps – the first group to be assigned to the Baltic nations after the demise of the Soviet Union. After a year or so of hand-written letters, back and forth, each taking about three weeks in transit, I can still remember the “Wow” experience of receiving the first reply to my first email to him – within the same 24-hour period. In an instant, life changed forever! Twelve years later, when I was preparing to move to Estonia, I was just as surprised when I was told that I would be able to make long distance calls back to the States from my computer, for free. “Estonia ‘kicks butt’ in I.T., Mom,” he said. “There’s this new thing call Skype.” And so there was – and is, and I still consider it a small miracle that I can talk to and “see” friends in the USA, or sometimes receive a mobile call from my daughter in California, when, for whatever reason, the Skype connection “isn’t very good” that evening. Skype, like all technology, does have its moments!

Currently I have Facebook friends, some known in person, some in faraway places. And, shocker! – I also have friends who do not FB or tweet, and still communicate via email. More radical yet, a few friends still hand-write (sometimes type) actual cards and letters, as do I. Recently, in fact, I was annoyed when I arrived at the local post office in Elva to buy stamps (stamps!) at 9 a.m., only to find that it didn’t open until 11 a.m. – a recent change of policy – “because people don’t use it so much any more.” And – speaking of changing times – Elva, which means “eleven” in Swedish, was so named, it is said, because it was the eleventh stop on the postal route from Riga, when Estonia was still part of Livonia. Delivery via train or boat!

Sad to say, the digital age has more serious drawbacks than the loss of fond memories of “olden times,” specifically, the non-stop, some would say irrational updating of absolutely everything, all the time! It not only drives some of us who were not born with embedded computer chips (that’s a joke!) crazy, but also means that too much in this new world is instantly made redundant, be it information or a physical object. The reality is setting in that too many things “we can’t live without” are too soon thrown away, often with dire consequences.

And that, most definitely, relates to Let’s Do It! World, on a global scale. What happens to all the waste? Last year’s fashions (although we older folk generally keep things longer), household appliances, work accessories, large or small – are now things intentionally designed for short-term use, so that we are encouraged – even expected to buy a new model…right now! We are beginning to understand that it is not just nuclear waste but more ordinary chemicals, metals, plastics used in our household gadgets, fabrics, digital phones, computers, monitors, laptops that, when disposed of, can have harmful, even lethal effects as they mount up in landfills, dispersing into the waterways and fields where our food grows. We know about wildlife ingesting pellets and getting tangled in food bags, even the biodegradable variety – about whole plastic “islands” in the oceans; chemical residues in our fruits and vegetables, even in mothers’ milk. About allergies. Lung disease. Cancer.

And so, a bit more about my Uncle Ed.  He was a musician – pianist, composer, arranger – whose “day job” was managing a golf course. He made “a nice living,” was relatively frugal, and drove a mid-sized, mid-priced car. When it began to show its age, some of the golfers would tease him a bit: “Hey Ed, you can afford it. Why don’t you get yourself a new car?” Ed would put his hands out to his sides, shrug his shoulders, and reply simply, “I get in…and it goes.”

He had no need to replace something that served him perfectly well for the newest, latest, shiniest, smallest/largest/quietest/fastest/coolest version. The object served its intended purpose; the conversation – and conservation – complete.

What an affront to conspicuous consumption! What a kick in the teeth to the advertising geniuses of our world!  What a dinosaur he was!  What an example! Just the kind we could use a few more of right now in this oh, so fast-moving, short-sighted, digital, throwaway, plastic- and chemical-infested, waste-ridden 21st Century.  Let’s keep finding new rebels…and heroes!

 By Peg Oetjen, Let’s Do It! World PR team