Saturday, June 20, 2009

"Get off my lawn!"

My sister and I

Last night, a group of folks were talking at dinner.  A friend mentioned studies show that college Freshman view email as something antiquated used to communicate with parents or teachers. AIM/txting/social networking sites rule the school these days.  

At 37, I've become one of the folks who have seen enough changes since I was a kid that I feel like a fossil when I start to think about how things used to be. My god, I feel like Erma Bombeck. If you're under 35, you won't know who she is anyway. So Google her.

Knowing some one's birthday meant you cared about them (or at least kept good notes and referred to them frequently). We didn't have Facebook to remind us of things. You knew all your friends' phone numbers by heart. There was one phone line per house and usually someone was using it. There was no call-waiting. If you were expecting an important call, it became a game of negotiation with other household members. If the phone rang, you couldn't screen because there was no caller ID. But no one screened back then, if you were home, you always answered the phone. And if the person you were calling wasn't home, there was no answering machine -- you had to try again later. If you missed a call, you couldn't *69. Poor message taking skills caused tons of family fights. Even weirder, my grandmother rented her phone from the phone company her entire life, right up until she died about 10 years ago.

Forms of communication were simple - you could call someone, see someone in person or send them a letter (with a stamp). Those were your options (outside of skywriting or putting it on the blimp).

Say it's ten pm and you want to find out some useless piece of trivia like, "Who was the 5th Beatle?" TOO BAD! There was no internet. Instead, there were books, libraries and adults who knew stuff.  And if you thought they were full of shit, you couldn't go to Snopes to confirm/deny it. There's a reason they said, "Knowledge is power."

Entire Christmases would be ruined by forgetting one thing -- batteries. Nothing had a charger. Everything good seemed to run on batteries. And the toys of my childhood would usually require monstrous DD batteries. The biggest battery hog? The invention of portable boom boxes. I imagine they were roughly 50x the size of the first generation iPod. You could either listen to the radio OR bring along any cassette tapes you wanted. When the iPod arrived, it was the first thing ever that made me think, "This is the future I was promised as a kid!" 

Alternative music was simply anything you didn't hear on the radio.  If you liked the song, you could try to buy the album (if the record store was open, or if they hadn't sold their only copy). If you couldn't get to the record store, that was it. Your only other option was wait to hear it on the radio. Sometimes requesting it helped. Back then, actual DJs manned the booths. Nothing was preprogrammed. There was no music archive or playlists. If you REALLY loved a song, you'd wait til it came on (I mean, like, didn't leave your house.) and then would run, press play on your tape recorder, put the microphone by the speaker and pray the phone or doorbell didn't ring.  Usually they did. If not, your parents or siblings were yelling in the background. Travelling to visit cousins in bigger cities was awesome because you could hear music that would take month's to reach your town's radio stations.

You couldn't get money out of ATMs, mostly because they didn't exist, In my childhood, you got money at a bank, during limited business hours. Which was extremely inconvenient if you worked during the day. Alternatively, you could write checks. Sometimes, if you had a good relationship with your grocery store, they'd "take a check for over". Some would even cash your paycheck (very helpful considering you couldn't get direct deposit).

Pictures were for special occasions. That's why you see so many "retro" (are they retro if they're from your own childhood?) pictures of celebrations. In fact, somewhere, I have a picture of me holding my cake from every birthday until I was 13. 

Video games were brand new when I was a kid. Every Sunday, my family would go out for pizza and they would give my sister and I a roll of quarters. It was only as an adult that I found out they would have to skip lunch a couple days a week in order to do that for us. That's one thing that still hasn't changed--even back then, we were spoiled and had a sense of entitlement. 

When I was a kid, people could smoke cigarettes in airplanes and even restaurants. I know it sounds insane to now, but back then it wasn't ever questioned. If you had asthma and someone lit up next to you? That's your problem!

I guess it just makes me realize that these truths that seem so obvious now (smoking on an airplane? wtf!) were once completely socially acceptable. There are very few things that are absolute. Societies evolve and twist and change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. What seems so controversial today will most likely be commonplace in a decade or two.

I remember rolling my eyes at my parents when they'd talk to me about how things used to be. I knew that would never happen to me. So when you see one of us "old-timers" struggling with new technology, be patient with us. We've seen a lot of changes.

PS -- will somebody please bring back Garanimals and Underoos (but for adults)?


Meia said...

Ack, I feel old all of a sudden. XD Great post. I am used to people being touched when I remember their birthday. Now they're used to all 500 of their friends facebook-bombing them with "happy birthday" at once. FWIW, I still put birthdays on my paper calender. ;)

Joey Veltkamp said...

Aw, thanks Meia. :) I'm so jealous of your ability to remember. I need to start doing it the old fashioned way (pen/paper)! So much more personal.

Anonymous said...

I love the pic of you and kimmy....she was so kimmy then :)

Susanna said...

I love love love this post, Joey!

and now some confessions:

we have a land line and a cell phone that stays in the car.

we have no call waiting.

we have no caller ID.

we have an answering machine.

ok, phew, glad to get that off my chest!

Joey Veltkamp said...

You folks are Amish? ;P

I'm seriously SO JEALOUS and need to figure out a way to get back to a simpler way of living. What you describe sounds HEAVENLY!! (And thank you!)