This past Friday, it hit me. We are living in a technological age that only a generation ago we couldn’t have imagined.
I was sitting in my car, watching the PGA Champ-ionship live, in high definition, on my cell phone. Perfect picture. Impeccable sound quality.
The more I watched, and the more I thought about it, the more improbable it seemed.
There were some guys with me who were about the same ages as my kids. They were not nearly as impressed. And it occurred to me that they had grown up with these magnificent toys. Things like cell phones, computers and a host of other mind-boggling inventions are everyday items to them, sort of like a landline telephone and three-station TV were to me.
And the things we enjoy now were written about in science fiction books.
When I was a child, televisions were huge, yet beautiful, pieces of furniture. There was a knob with 13 channels, but only three of them worked. You had to walk over to the set to change the channel, turn the volume up or down or to change the appearance of the picture. If you missed a show, you missed it. There was no pause, rewind, record or closed captions. The only “guide” was the local paper or TV Guide magazine. It received the signal from a huge, metal robot thing called an antenna attached to your roof. We got a color set when I was about 10, I think. My whole family just stared, fascinated.
Most homes had only one telephone. It had a dial with holes by the numbers. If someone called while you were on it, they got a busy signal. That was tough when you began dating and you wanted to talk to your girlfriend or boyfriend for hours at a time. When it rang, you had no idea who was calling until you answered it. Also, while you talked you were stuck right by the base because the handset was tethered to it by a cord. You stored a lot of phone numbers in your head because there were no “contacts” to choose from.
If you got lost driving around, you either had to stop and ask directions or find a phone booth. Most of us carried extra change for this very reason. If you broke down you either had to walk and find help or hope someone would stop and offer assistance. When you stopped for gas you didn’t have to get out and pump it. You’d run over a rubber hose and it would ring a bell inside the station. Then someone would come out and fill it up for you. A dollar would buy three gallons. They would also check your oil and tires at no extra charge. There were no groceries inside, but normally there was a candy and Coke machine. You could also get a map, usually free of charge, if you needed it. Ordinarily you’d need it. There was no GPS to let you know you made a wrong turn.
Entertainment during the long vacation drives were usually comic books and naps, with complete boredom in between. There were no movies, video games or texting. Radio stations would peter out a few miles outside of town, and you were forced to channel surf across the radio dial. People would actually mail postcards which said, “Wish you were here!” because long distance wasn’t free. In fact, it was quite expensive.
Pictures you took weren’t available to look at until after the vacation was over. You just saved up the rolls of film and took them to a film developer once you got home. If you blew the shot, too bad. Normally it took two to three days before you could pick them up, but you could get them in 24 hours if you were willing to pay extra.
Research for school homework was done using encyclopedias. You actually had to know how to spell, and if you didn’t know a word your mom or dad loved to say, “We have a dictionary. Look it up!” We typed our papers on a typewriter, and if we misspelled a word we’d paint over it with liquid paper, wait for it to dry and re-type it. A little bell would let us know when we were close to the end of a line. You had to watch to make sure you didn’t overshoot the bottom of the page.
I could go on and on.
Of course, this same column could have been written by someone 60 years ago, about how they grew up before TV, radio, automobiles, air-conditioning and indoor plumbing. And 60 years from now a columnist may write about how slow travel used to be before cars could fly.
I better get this in before deadline.
Bartlett resident Rick Jacobs is a regular columnist for the Express. Contact him at email@example.com.