DIANE PHILLIPS: What we feel when the familiar fades away, even when you weren’t a fan


Diane Phillips


ONE day after a crowd of 800,000 descended on Washington in the March for Our Lives demanding stricter gun control in the wake of the Parkland school shooting that killed 17 students, wounding another 17, Remington Outdoor Company, America’s oldest manufacturer of arms and munition, announced it was filing for bankruptcy.

A gun manufacturer filing for bankruptcy should not have evoked anything but a sense of celebration in someone like me whose only sympathy would have been with those who might lose their jobs as a result.

I have never owned a gun and couldn’t tell a Derringer from a Colt .45. But I have been surrounded by people who are hunters and appreciate their Remington and Winchester partners in the sport that does respect the natural habitat for obvious purposes, because a protected environment provides the cover for the seasonal waterfowl they pursue.

Oddly enough, I did feel a small something about the possible end of an era for Remington, not sure what it was, being a non-fan of guns and never having given Remington a thought prior to its threat to take itself out of the picture. Before I analysed why I felt something about a company I had no interest in whatsoever, I Googled to see what the most interesting thing about Remington might be. It was the shockingly massive number of rifles and shotguns and semi-automatic and single shot and automatic and pump action shotguns and handguns they had produced over a 202-year history, a good portion of which are probably still floating around in reasonable enough condition to harm someone if used in such a way. If you stretched the five million or more of one of its products, a Model 700, stock to barrel, they would span the Atlantic Ocean from New York to London.

So while there is nothing that binds Remington to my psyche and, in fact, any sort of gun or ammunition manufacturer to my avoid-conflict-at-all-costs wimpish personality, the downfall of one of America’s oldest institutions did have an impact. Truth be told, it will probably be sold and reappear under a slightly revised branding, but that is not the point. The takeaway here is that whenever something that was part of our world, even a subconscious part we never paid much attention or any attention to at all, we feel as though our world has changed. Even a slight change can make us stop and think. What is next, we wonder?

We humans like things the way they are. We say we want change and we mean it. What we really mean is we want the change we want, the change we are calling for. We don’t want the change we did not ask for.

Like learning that baby powder is bad for you, that the sweet-smelling talc you dusted liberally on the babies you loved after their baths may have been a carcinogenic. A change in knowledge we had to swallow but wouldn’t life have been better if it weren’t true? Or that cleaning products may contain harmful chemicals hazardous to our health when all we were doing before we knew better was trying to keep our surroundings clean for our health.

We can label that uncomfortable reality or that learning that the president of the United States of America very likely had an affair with a porn star shortly after Wife #3 Melania Trump gave birth to their son, Barron. Who names a child Barron, anyway, but that is beside the point, the point being the fact Melania has been silent as if in denial.

At a time when the public wants outrage or pity or some type of reaction to signal there has been no seismic change in the expectations of morals for the leader of the Free World, the temporarily scorned but beautifully coiffed wife has let them down, neither declaring she is standing by her man nor dumping him in the nearest tweeter bin.

That is uncomfortable change because it invites fear that going forward this will be acceptable behaviour if there is no familial hubris about it now. At least when Bill Clinton was doing whatever it was he was doing with Monica Lewinsky, the country sided with the hard done by wife, Hillary, uniting Americans in their holier-than-thou shroud of disdain.

Whether in the expected behaviour and standards of leaders or in the names and brands that make up the everyday world, we are far less adaptable to change than we pride ourselves on being. We like stability. We drive by a place where a building stood just the day before and cannot remember what it looked like before it was demolished overnight, but for a second we miss it.

There are only a few things I can think of that I don’t miss. One is carbon paper. Clearly, it was an invention by someone who worked in an office, hated office work and wanted to make sure everyone who did it would be as miserable as they were. The price of making a copy was walking away looking like you had been fingerprinted.

Another thing I don’t miss is the facsimile. Sorry, all you fax manufacturers out there still hoping for a comeback or distributors dreaming that worries about online privacy breaches will drive people back to the spam-free zone of fax life, we hope not. The fax machine was like the office gambling desk. Sometimes it would come through for you and sometimes the numbers just would not work and when you had the single most important document of the year to transmit that is exactly when it wouldn’t. On a good day, you’d put a piece of paper on to a machine, dial a number, hold your breath waiting for it to ring and produce the magic beep beep beep so you could press send and if all that went through and the paper made it the 9 inches from top to bottom, you would breathe a sigh of relief because the machine designed to do what it actually just did really did work.

What was interesting in researching the fax phenomenon was how brief its popularity was relative to its history. The fax is actually more than 170 years old. A Scottish engineer and inventor named Alexander Bain patented the first machine in 1846 after working on the project for four years. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s that Xerox came out with a machine that resembled the fax we know. It weighed a whopping 46 pounds and because it was capable of handling documents from interests across the world, the United Nations set the first standards for its operation with the expectation that it would transmit one page every six minutes.

The concept of using a facsimile instead of overnight courier or regular mail for “rapid information dispersal” hardly sounds rapid to us now. So accustomed to instantaneous information dispersal we would probably pick up that 46-pound machine and use our very last ounce of strength to heave it through the nearest window. And smile. Some changes are for the better. They may just take a little getting used to.


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