Even though so much of the technology I use daily was purchased in the last several years, it’s not until I start to wax nostalgic about things I now take for granted that I realize all the things my now 10 year old BabyGirl has that I didn’t when I was her age. Being around my grandma, I’m often reminded how she grew up without “basic” things like a phone, an electric refrigerator, or a car. But, I don’t always think about all the things that are “new” to me.
So I started writing down all the things that exist now that weren’t even thought of when I was a kid. There were definitely more than 10 things! As I was writing things down, my daughter was asking me how I used to do things if I didn’t have “this stuff”. I felt like I grew up in the stone age! BabyGirl knows that Bubbe didn’t have things “because she’s old”. But when it comes to thinking about me as a kid, it’s hard for her to realize that just 40 years ago many of the things she uses daily didn’t exist. It’s baffling to her, and quite frankly to me too, that I couldn’t watch my favorite show every night before bed but she can. When you think about it, 30 years doesn’t seem like that long ago.
10 Things That Didn’t Exist When I Was 10
1. Voice mail – we take for granted that you can pick up the phone and hear a message from someone who was trying to reach you. When I was 10 there were answering machine but they were expensive and clunky and few people had them. If you called your friend and no one was home you’d wait awhile and call them again. In my house we had a “no answer” rule during dinner. My mom said that if it was important they’d keep calling back. So some evenings we’d sit through dinner listening to the phone ring because if you didn’t answer it and the person on the other end didn’t hang up after 3 or 4 rings then it would just keep ringing.
2. Mandatory seat belts – our car had seat belts, but we weren’t required to use them until I was a teen. As a kid, I’d sit in the back seat and slide from side to side on the slippery vinyl seats. If no one else was sitting in the front then I could sit up front. Without a seat belt! I liked going to play bingo on Sunday with my grandma because then I could sit in the front seat of her giant blue Chevy. She wasn’t wearing a seat belt and I, for sure, didn’t have one.
3. Cable TV – we had 3 channels, 4 if we got the UHF channel to come in clear. I remember that my grandparents had a TV Guide from the newspaper, but no one needed a guide to know The Wonderful World of Disney came on every Sunday at 7pm and HeeHaw was on at 7pm on Saturday. There was the Lawrence Welk Show, too. And Carol Burnett and Little House on the Prairie. They all came on at the same time every week. Just a few shows. And we all watched these same few shows.
4. Cartoons 24/7 – can’t sleep? Today you can turn on the TV and find cartoons on any time of the day or night. When I was a kid, cartoons were on Saturday morning. And it was a BIG deal! We’d get up early to watch Tom and Jerry, the Roadrunner, Elmer Fudd, and Buggs Bunny. If you missed it then you’d have to wait an entire week before they’d be on again. Kids across the country were glued to the TV for hours on Saturday morning, and parents didn’t care. They knew where we were and that we were probably eating a giant bowl of Count Chocula, Cookie Crisp or Boo Berry cereal.
5. Computers – my daughter had her own computer when she was 2. Sure, it was a hand-me-down but it was all hers. She knew how to turn it on and how to click on the learning games I set up for her. I remember using a Lisa in 1983 and eagerly awaiting the Macintosh when school started in 1984. But I did not get my own personal computer until after I graduated from college. I learned how to type in 7th grade on a manual typewriter with no letters on the keyboard. My daughter learned how to type using a computer program when she was 4. She will never know the frustration of spending hours typing a paper (with carbon paper!) only to realize she didn’t leave room for the footnotes or completely skipped a sentence and has to retype pages and pages.
6. Digital camera – OK, yes, cameras existed when I was a kid. But I didn’t get my own until the mid 1980s when I got a Kodak Disc Camera. It was so new and different, I was one of the “cool kids”. Not only could I not see the crappy photos I was taking, but the film wasn’t cheap and then I had to pay to get these crappy photos developed. But I’d get the photos back from the drive up photo mat and painstakingly write on the back of each of them – in acid-based ink! – and put them in a photo album with a sticky plastic cover. Today, my daughter grabs my camera and takes amazing photos. Still, all those “old photos” remind me of the important moments in my life. I was much more selective of what I would take of picture of back then. Today, it’s so easy to take a photo of just about anything because there is no real consequence if you realize you didn’t want it. Everything seems worthy of photographing, but at the same time everything seems inconsequential.
7. Internet – When I graduated from college, the world wide web was just born. Research for middle and high school meant going to the library, or grabbing one of the encyclopedia from the gold-bound set in the living room. Looking up where something was located in town meant going to the phone book. If I wondered about something, there was often no easy way to find out more information. There was no instant access to anything. If I wanted to know how far Boise was from Tulsa, I’d have to get out the road atlas and figure it out. Today, I can get that answer in less than 2 minutes. My daughter was using the internet for her learning from a very early age and being exposed to a world bigger than she could imagine. At 10, if it wasn’t in my school library or the fancy-looking encyclopedia I was pretty much out of luck. Today, “I don’t know” has been replaced by “Let me look that up on the internet”.
8. Personal mobile phone – my smart phone, with a high quality camera, the ability to play games, a full jukebox of music and the ability to call anyone in the world from anywhere in the world is smaller than my first real camera. I was in high school when I had saved enough money to get a phone in my room. In my room! Today, I have a phone wherever I go. My daughter sat in a cafe in Italy having a video chat with her dad in Arizona using my smart phone. When I was her age, the phone was attached to the wall in the kitchen and talking to someone in another country was a luxury only for adults. Leaving the house meant being out of contact. If you needed to call someone while you were out you had 3 options – (1) use a pay telephone, (2) stop at a business you frequented and hope they’d let you use their phone or, (3) wait until you got home or to where you were going. How we were able to survive is unfathomable to younger generations.
9. On demand music – I remember having a clock radio in my bedroom when I was in high school. I also remember trying to record music off the radio because I couldn’t afford to go out and buy the newest record or tape, only to end up having the first few seconds of a song being talked over by the DJ. Buying a record or a tape was expensive. I had my own record player (it was a pink Fisher Price!) that played 45s, but I had to share the cassette player. But that was to listen to music at home. There was no listening to music on the walk to school. In the car all we had was AM radio. I was in 8th grade when we got a car that had FM radio! Listening to music meant listening to whatever was on the radio, and even then there were only a few stations. And it meant waking up early Sunday to listen to Rick Dees or Casey Kasem playing the top pop music of that week. Now, almost all the music I listen to is music that I control. My daughter doesn’t understand that there was a time when parents didn’t listen to the same kid-friendly song 82,972 times in a row.
10. In-home gaming devices – We have a Wii and BabyGirl loves playing it. I was in 7th grade and a friend of mine got an Atari and we’d hang out on the weekend playing Pong. I showed BabyGirl what Pong was and I think she was unsure what to say without sounding rude. Pong was awesome! Compared to the interactive gaming devices on the market now, it’s laughable. But it was hours of fun. Most of the time though, we played outside and rode bikes all over the neighborhood or went swimming at the neighbor’s house or played tag or ball or any made up game. We were outside for hours running and playing and just having fun. I remember playing soccer between the houses and using the street lights as bases for baseball. And I vividly remember skidding tires, falling over on my bike and breaking my arm but still playing until it got dark. The definition of playing and fun was different. And BabyGirl will never know how fantastically amazing that kind of fun was.
It look at all the things I take for granted now and how different my daughter’s childhood is than mine. For generations, parents have done this. Looking back and comparing the differences is both exciting and bittersweet. My daughter can watch TV on a mobile device anywhere in the world. I was so excited when we got a console color TV. My mother had black and white TV, and my grandmother didn’t have a television in her home until she was in her 30s. Times change. Technology changes. These changes impact our lives in ways we can’t imagine when they first come out. Looking back to when I got my first Sony Walkman I could never imagine I’d have the ability to listen to music in a more personal and “on demand” way.
Technology changes our lives, usually for the better. But there are some things I think my daughter misses out on because technology is so ubiquitous and integral to our lives. What things do you use now that weren’t around when you were a kid?