We didn’t have the green thing back then

My brother sent me the provocative little story below.   It’s been zinging around the internet for a while with no writer’s credit.

Overall I find it equal parts cranky and clever–a combination of “good old days” hagiography and the kind of pre-21st century ingenuity that Eric Sloane documented so brilliantly.

I chose 4 of the green things it cites from “back then.” Then I searched for companies & ideas that are providing us with “right now” marketplace solutions:  what you might call retro-tech.

Read on to see what I found.

The Story:  We Didn’t Have the Green Thing Back Then

In the line at the store, the cashier told the older woman that plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized to her and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

That’s right; they didn’t have the green thing in her day.

Back then, they returned their milk bottles, Coke bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, using the same bottles over and over. They drank from a fountain when they were thirsty, instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time they had a drink of water….

Filling Stations

British humor: How not to drink from a fountain

In some public spaces, it’s as hard to find a water fountain (or “bubbler” or “drinking fountain,” depending on your local lexicon) as it is to track down a pay-phone.

Thames Water, Britain’s biggest water utility, has installed water-bottle refilling stations—called HydraChills—at the Hammersmith bus station and at the Tower Bridge museum. The idea is to test out the dispensers on the public. If they are well-used, the city will make them permanent fixtures in transit stations across London before the 2012 Olympics. [From Triple Pundit (“People, Planet, Profit”)]

But they didn’t have the green thing back in her day. 

In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks….


Town Center?

  “Walkable Communities are designed around the human foot.  They are the oldest, and until quite recently, the only towns or cities in the world.  Increased walkability contributes to sustained prosperity, resource responsibility, safety, physical fitness and social interaction.”

Economic benefits of a walkable community (partial list):

    • Housing values are higher where it’s walkable
    • Walkable communities attract “new economy” workers
    • Walkable communities are a business relocation alternative
    • Walkable communities reduce commuting costs
    • Walkable communities cost taxpayers less
    • Tourists are attracted to walkable communities

[From Walkable.org]

…but she’s right. They didn’t have the green thing in her day.

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. They washed the baby’s diapers because they didn’t have the throw-away kind. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts – wind and solar power really did dry the clothes….

The Artful Clothes Line

Wooden clothes pins in Oregon...in January

Levi Strauss & Co. launched the “Care to Air” Design Challenge in June, 2010 to find innovative, covetable and sustainable ways for people to air dry their clothes. Nearly 140 designs from around the world were submitted for the chance to win up to $10,000 in prizes – and change the way people think about line drying.

The winning design, “Nothing Is What It Seems,” combines art and function to create an environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing way to dry clothes. The runner-up is “The Evaporation Station”, which uses a series of nested stainless steel racks, meant for urban dwellers with limited space.


…but she’s right; they didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house – not a TV in every room.  And the TV had a small screen the size of a pizza dish, not a screen the size of the state of Montana . In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn’t have electric machines to do everything for you.

Back then, they exercised by working so they didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. They didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power….

The Reel Push

A cornucopia of British made domestic paraphernalia of 20th century on display at the Greenford Heritage Centre

You may search the internet for “push mowers”, thinking that’s what a human-powered lawnmower is called.  Not so:  the term merely distinguishes walk-behind power mowers from riding mowers.

Turns out “reel lawn mowers” is the term you need.  Here’s the link to Reel Mowers Review.  Many manufacturers (Scott and Sunlawn) and models (“Classic Push” and “Silent Cut”) to choose from, and an excellent Q & A  page with straight-forward advice, i.e., “Reel mowers often get stopped by sticks.”


…but she’s right; they didn’t have the green thing back then.

When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used wadded up newspaper to cushion it, not styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, people took the streetcar and kids rode their bikes to school or rode the school bus, instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service….  

A streetcar named Peachtree

Atlanta: “At the vanguard of America’s streetcar renaissance”

ATLANTA, May 19, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Siemens Industry Inc. today announced that it has been awarded a $17.2 million contract from Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), on behalf of the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, to provide Atlanta with four new streetcars. The first car is expected to be delivered in September 2012 with revenue service beginning in early 2013. These will be the first streetcars in Atlanta since 1949 and will mark Siemens entry into the streetcar market in the United States.

“The Atlanta Streetcar project will keep the City of Atlanta competitive with other cities by improving our transit connectivity, boosting our tourism industry, helping local businesses, and building a more sustainable future,” Mayor Reed said.

But they didn’t have the green thing back then!

  • From the New Urban Dictionary:  Retro Tech (n.) Like steampunk, but better. Victorian-era technology used to make crazy-assed shit.
  • See also: Retrocomputing (n.) Refers to emulations of way-behind-the-state-of-the-art hardware or software, or implementations of never-was-state-of-the-art; especially if such implementations are elaborate practical jokes and/or parodies.

About John Wackman

A writer since I learned to hold a pencil (no, not like that...hold it like this!). Long-time writer/producer for television, now organizer of Repairs Cafes in the Hudson Valley (13 & counting!) -- Program Manager of Solarize Hudson Valley, non-profit, state supported, community sponsored renewable energy program. We're all re-inventing ourselves. It's a sci-fi world, isn't it?
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1 Response to We didn’t have the green thing back then

  1. Sarah K says:

    This is a very serious topic, obviously, but I couldn’t help but crack up when it mentioned the TV screen the size of Montana. I don’t get why no one took credit for this; I know I would. This person, whoever he/she is, brings up some really good points and manages to list them in a really interesting way. Awesome.

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