By the time you read this, Sears may have moved from hospice to the morgue. If it hasn’t yet, it will soon. And thus will end a 125-year-long legacy that represented far more than a ubiquitous corporation in America. It was a symbol of our nation’s middle class, a brand ingrained into the childhood memories of every long-time American over the age of thirty-five. Who of that age group doesn’t remember poring over the catalog in the pre-Christmas months compiling their list for Santa? What home garage doesn’t have at least one or a few tools engraven with the Craftsman brand?
It’s sad, really, to see such a symbol fizzle to this quiet and pitiful end. We all saw it coming a few years ago with another list of a few dozen store closures getting dropped every few months. Most of us have done our part to contribute to its demise, trading tradition for the convenience and cost savings found online. I wonder if the death of Sears is a symbol of a changing age. Whatever it is, we are reminded that — for the best of companies — while the starting point of novelty to the finishing point of obsolescence used to be a long journey, today it is a dizzying jaunt at best.
Not long ago, I watched an episode of Seinfeld. Though still mildly entertaining, it was intriguing to compare and contrast how I consumed the show then with how I perceive it today. Twenty-five years ago, it was fresh, irreverent, and cutting edge — a “show about nothing” based on observational humor. Today, more than anything, it’s charmingly outdated. Society has upgraded its humor firmware many times since then. What makes us laugh today would have seemed bizarre a couple of decades ago. What was funny back then now seems simplistic and pixelated, like an Atari 2600 video game. Its value is more reminiscent than entertaining.
When my wife and I were first married in 1994, her brother and his wife bought us a 19-inch tube TV for a gift. We were thrilled then, and had the thing for quite a while — long enough that the remote control was held together by duct tape, and had a missing battery cover. Several years back, we upgraded to a 40 inch flat panel — which continues to work just fine. I’m puzzled — I don’t watch much TV — why I’m now feeling the need to lobby my wife for an upgrade to a 55 or 60-inch 4K television to mount on our downstairs wall. My sophisticated argument — “They’re so cheap!” — isn’t working with my pragmatic wife. So, to maintain marital bliss, we’re stuck with a 40-inch 1080p for the time being. Please pray that I’ll survive 2019 with our 2012 TV.
My own journey from 19-inch TV satisfaction to 40-inch TV frustration would be instructive if I cared to examine it. While this kind of change is an inevitable constant in our lives, a part of me still longs for a world with Sears and Seinfeld and 19-inch tube TVs. For me, familiarity is a stronger magnet than novelty. I seek emotional doorways to simpler times. But I don’t want to be that guy who describes new technology with words like “fandangled” and yells at neighbor kids to “Get off my lawn!” I will adopt the new, but with discretion and caution.
At some point soon, we will eulogize Sears, the latest casualty of a fast-changing humanity. While I’ve spent far more dollars at Amazon.com in the past five years than I have at Sears in the last 20, I mourn this loss because the world becomes a little less familiar. It is one less reminder of more understandable and more navigable times.
I wonder what example of vibrance taken for granted today will be tomorrow’s fossil, and if we’re wired to genuinely embrace such rapid change while also maintaining the happiness we’d like.
Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls is the author of “Living in Spin.” He is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 106.3 and 92.1, and also at www.kidnewsradio.com. “The Neal Larson Show” can be heard weekday mornings from 6:00 to 10:00. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.