When I Was Your Age

My grandmother Nettie was born in 1906.  She used to look at the sky sometimes, and was amazed at the number of airplanes flying overhead.  When she was born, cars and planes were not commonplace.  The Wright brothers first flight was in 1903, and Henry Ford’s Model T didn’t start production until 1908.  When my grandmother was young, she didn’t drive to the airport.  There was no car to drive in, and there was no airport to go to.

She used to say “When I was your age….”, and I would roll my eyes.

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My parents used to tell me about their youth.  About going to Horn & Hardarts for a cafeteria-style meal.  As I understand it, meals were selected out of something that was like a big vending machine  They played 78 records on a Victrola. They knew of Edsels, Oldsmobiles, and polio.  Times were different then.

They used to say “When I was your age….” , and I would roll my eyes.

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I never thought that I would experience enough change to be able to say “When I was your age….”.  But I say it now.  And I am shocked- shocked!!- that my daughters roll their eyes when I say it.  The nerve of them!

When I was your age…..

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TV and movies– We used to have a black and white TV.  That TV received VHF channels 3, 6, 10 and the PBS station 12.  On the UHF band, we had channels 17, 29 and 48.  That was it- 7 channels, in crystal clear black and white.  I think it was a 12-inch TV.

When I was about  5-6 years old, my family was invited to my cousins home, to watch the Wizard of Oz.  My cousins had a brand new color TV.  When Dorothy opens the door of her bedroom, and her world changes from black and white to color…..my world was rocked.  I thought that was as much change as ever needed to happen.

We went to the Tyson movie theatre.  It seated a lot of people.  If we missed the big movie of the moment, we had to wait until that movie was shown on TV, a year later or more.  If it was shown on TV at all.  An R-rated movie had no chance of a re-broadcast on network TV.

When VCRs were invented (around 1975), it changed home entertainment.  I remember going to my local video-rental store, on Cottman Avenue, and waiting to get into the store.  On a Friday or Saturday night, every video would be rented out.  Every one.

VHS tapes don’t exist anymore.  Neither do Laser discs.  DVDs became very popular, but now there really isn’t a need for them, unless you’re not connected to an online service.  I don’t even know if there is a store that rents DVDs anymore.

An entire home entertainment industry, that started in 1975, doesn’t exist anymore.

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Cars– my car has 8 airbags, and anti-lock brakes.  The seats and the mirrors are heated.  So is the rear window.   The moonroof opens all the way back over the back seats.  The steering wheel tilts, my seat adjusts automatically to a pre-set location.  I have sensors that tell me when (for example) my tire pressure is too low.  My car lights up if I need gas.  I have a dozen settings for my windshield wipers- front and back.  My car speaks to me.  All of this technology comes automatically with my car-  I didn’t even have a choice about ordering it.

None of that technology existed when I started driving.

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Microwave ovens-if I want to blow up a baked potato in my home, there is no faster way to do it than with a microwave oven.  It only takes me two minutes to make the same mess that used to take me 2 hours to make.

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Music– I had a stereo system, with a turntable, a tape deck, a receiver (which was an integrated amplifier and tuner), and two stereo speakers the size of an automobile.  It was complicated to set this system up.  There were a lot of wires in the back- wires that went out, and wires that went in.  Many different colored wires.  Red wires in red jacks, black wires in black jacks.  The turntable had to be on top (because it opened upwards).  The receiver had to be in the middle (so the cords could reach all of the other components).

I had hundreds of record albums and cassette tapes. ( I didn’t have many 8-track tapes. If you have to ask, you are not of a certain age).  The problem with records was that they were frequently flawed.  Many times I opened a brand new record, and it had scratches, or was bent.

Then compact discs were introduced in the early 1980s.  The sound was perfect.  No bent records, no scratches, no pops.  I converted to CDs.

The iPod was introduced in 2001.  I remember looking at it, and thinking “I don’t get it”.  What I didn’t get was how transformative that little device would be.  It changed the music industry.  I used to listen to albums from start to finish.  People don’t do that anymore-  they listen to individual songs.  I used to read liner notes in albums.  Does anyone make liner notes anymore?

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Computers– I remember using a Mac for the first time in pharmacy school, probably around 1985 or so.  I had a paper to do.  Up until then, I used a Royal typewriter, along with a lot of typing paper, and a lot of correction fluid.  The first time I learned how to edit something on the computer screen, I heard the angels sing.  When I realized that I could save my work, and come back to it later-I was astounded.  The idea that I could move a paragraph around on the screen was revolutionary.

I feel like a caveman describing that.

Computers weren’t connected to anything, except the electric outlet.  There wasn’t anything to connect them to.  Until the internet.

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Internet-this is probably the most transformative change that I’ve experienced (along with cellphones).  I can’t really do it justice in a couple of paragraphs.  The wealth of information is astounding.

When I had to do research papers in school, I went to Northeast Regional Library, and I used the card catalog.  (If you have to ask…).  Or, if I didn’t want to go to the library, I looked at our family Encyclopedia Britannica.

There is no way for me to describe how big a change the internet has been.  Information is immediately available, about everything.  News, sports, weather, entertainment.  Politics, war, conflict.  Professional information, medical information, local information.

My father does not have a smart phone.  I try explaining to him that I can make plane reservations, hotel reservations, restaurant reservations, a car reservation, and check the status of all of them, in less than an hour, on my telephone.

I can purchase a ticket, for almost any sports or entertainment event, online.  If I want to go to the Super Bowl, I just have to be prepared to pay for it.  Final Four, Indy 500, Broadway, London’s West End.  It doesn’t matter.  If I have an internet connection and a credit card, and I want to go-  I can go.

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Cell phones-I have recently seen old advertisements for some of the original cell phones.  My first cell phone was larger than a brick, and weighed as much as one.  Cell phones came with carrying bags the size of backpacks.  They had limited talk time (perhaps 30 minutes), and the cost per minute of talk was usually $1 or more.  Cell phone coverage was spotty, at best.

Before cell phones, when we travelled, we were out of touch.  I had to give my hotel information to my wife, and the only way that she could reach me was at the hotel, or whatever office I was working in.  If I drove, I was out of touch during the drive.  If I stopped and wanted to call home, I would look for a pay phone.  There aren’t too many pay phones left anymore.

There is hardly a place where there isn’t cell phone coverage anymore.  Most domestic flights have in-flight Wi-Fi.  Now some international carriers are offering the same.  Currently, the only place I can’t be reached immediately in on an international flight, but that will change soon.

When we speak on the phone now, we ask “where are you?”  We didn’t ask that 30 years ago.  If I called you at home, and you answered- I knew that you were home.  Now if I call you, it is possible that you are in England, or New England, or Japan, India or San Francisco.  I don’t know.

Something that fascinates me-young people don’t use their cell phones as phones very much.  I never see my daughters speaking on the phone with their friends.  They text them instead.   And no one under the age of 50 ever calls our home.  When my daughters were young, their friends called to speak to them.  There is no need for their friends to call our land line anymore.

My cell phone helps me navigate. I love this technology.  I used to purchase a Rand-McNally Road Atlas for Theresa and I.  We used it so much that the pages fell out.  Then I purchased a GPS device.  Now I don’t even need that.  My phone does it for me.

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Banking-there was a bank near my home when I was young.  I had a passbook savings account.  I would take $5 to my bank, and they would deposit it in my account.  Someone would insert my passbook into a machine, and the $5 would be added as a line item in my passbook.

I haven’t been in a bank in years.  There are a lot of banks out there.  Why?

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Fax machines seemed revolutionary.  Now they are artifacts.

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My grandmother didn’t drive to the airport when she was young.  There was no car to drive in, and no airport to go to.

My daughters might not drive to the airport someday, either.  There are now self-driving cars.  And people are now starting to take recreational trips into space.

Is it possible that my daughters will someday ride in self-driven vehicles to a spaceport?

Hal

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