The other day I overheard a tween engaged in a conversation about her overwhelming need for the iphone 5. “My dad has no idea,” she moaned to her friend. “He’s from back when phones had cords.” Was that so long ago? It made me think of the pre-historic days of my youth and the crazy items we thought were ‘cutting edge’, like…
- Cable TV
I grew up in a two-channel world, waiting in eager anticipation for The World of Disney on Sunday night and finding it pre-empted by football about 50% of the time. So imagine my joy when the family finally got access to cable TV – all 5 channels. The first show we watched was Laverne and Shirley followed by Happy Days. It was glorious even though I had to view it from the floor because I was in charge of turning channels and adjusting volume (next grand invention to hit our home would be the TV remote!)
- The Walkman
My friends and I would swarm the radio for hours, pointing a tape recorder microphone at the speaker so that we could ‘steal’ music for our ‘collections’ – shoeboxes filled with tapes and pencils. (The pencils were there to fix the tapes when they started coming apart. You wedged the pencil in the hole and turned it until the black plastic strip was back where it belonged). The Walkman let you tune out the droning voices of your parents just by slipping on a set of giant headphones and pushing ‘play’ and I believed it was the best invention in the history of earth.
- The Microwave
Now here is an appliance whose aspirations have been severely downgraded over the years! Today its purpose seems to be limited to heating leftovers and making popcorn. But ‘back in the day’ this piece of modern wizardry was expected to eventually replace the stove. Our kitchen counter was stacked with microwave cookbooks and mothers in my neighbourhood poured over the recipes, producing culinary gems like microwave chicken (white and sweaty), microwave chili (pinkish hamburger and hard kidney beans), and microwave brownies (a bowl of blackened chocolate with a muddy middle)
- The Answering Machine
My mother seldom answered the phone if it rang around 7 pm because that was when my grandmother usually called and mom preferred reading her Harlequin Romance to listening to grandma Margaret complain about various defective body parts and the ‘skunky’ smell of the pulp mill in Pictou County. So, while my dad thought the answering machine was a ‘damn smart idea’, mom was not a fan. She still refused to pick up but the effect was lost, since my grandmother now talked directly to the machine, which could be heard from one end of our small house to the other. And when she ran out of time, grandma would just call back and keep right on talking. I never got into using the answering machine because it was only plugged in half the time. Mom was always declaring the device to be ‘broken’ and putting it back in the box (which she kept conveniently located under a chair in the kitchen).
- The ‘Home’ Computer
When I was a youngster, computers were something you saw in spy movies… giant rooms lined, floor to ceiling, with black and silver panels, covered in knobs and buttons and flashing lights. So imagine how wild it seemed when, somewhere in my teens, ‘home’ computers hit the market. They were so tiny! My boyfriend’s family had one that was only about 2 feet square…plus the 3 foot tower… plus the keyboard… plus the printer and the crate of printer paper, with the perforated strips on the sides so it would ‘feed’ through the printer. Everybody was signing up to learn ‘computer language’, except my parents, who declared the whole thing a ‘fad’.
I remember moaning about my mom and dad– how they refused to replace the record player with an 8-track, and kept saving to buy the Encyclopedia Brittanica even though books were clearly on their way out. I also remember overhearing adult conversations about the impending collapse of civilized society now that the kids were all ‘hooked’ on gadgets and technology.
There are strong arguments made against almost everything new. Change can be intimidating. But I, for one, am as fascinated by new things now as I was when I was a child, and even though I am from ‘back when phones had cords’ I sympathize more with the frustrated tween in the coffee house than with her father… the iphone 5 is fabulous!