Tuesday, January 4, 2011
The Dark Ages
To historians, "The Dark Ages" refers to the era which ran from the decline of the Roman Empire in the 5th century A.D. up to the beginning of the Enlightenment in the 15th century.
But from the vantage point of the internet age, my own childhood is looking more and more like the Dark Ages.
For entertainment, we had black and white TV. The picture quality wasn't great, and sometimes the image on the screen would scroll up or down, which meant we had to adjust the "vert hold" dial. There was no such thing as a remote control, so to do that, or to change the channel, you had to get up, walk over to the TV, and turn a knob.
There was less motive to change the channel, though, as there were only three channels. This is why Hollywood can make nostalgic movies from old TV shows like Get Smart and The Wild, Wild West and Starsky and Hutch: everybody remembers them, because there wasn't much else to watch. In the future they will be far less likely to do a remake of, say, Hoarders, simply because audience shares are less due to the number of choices.
Cell phones did not exist. Each family had one land line, ensuring arguments over who got to use it when. I knew of only one family that had two phone lines back then, and it struck me as the height of self indulgence. And without call waiting, getting in touch with someone often meant endlessly dialing until you finally stopped getting a busy signal.
If you wanted to contact someone far away (long distance phone calls were expensive), you used snail mail, or, as it was called back then, mail.
There was no GPS, so if you went for a walk in the woods you had to orient yourself. And if you did get lost, there was no calling for help on a cell phone. (It's a wonder any of us Baby Boomers survived to adulthood.)
To go for that walk, you would most likely have put on a pair of Keds, since there were no running shoes. That didn't seem like such a hardship, though, since jogging hadn't caught on yet.
Cars usually didn't have seat belts in the back seats, and there was no such thing as a crumple zone. No one would have imagined such frivolities as heated seats, or a digital readout to tell you what the outside temperature was, or another to tell you how many miles per gallon your car had averaged for that tank of gas.
(What the cars did have back then were personalities so distinctive that from a hundred and fifty yards away you could tell a Caddy from a Mercedes from a Mustang from a GTO. Nowadays you often have to look at the logo on the back to identify the model.)
There were no video games, so people actually played board games. Some of the games, like chess, actually required some brainpower. (You never hear a parent boast, "Oh, my Joey is really smart -- he's a really good Call of Duty player.)
To type, you inserted a piece of paper in the typewriter and pecked away. There was nothing you could do about typos other than put on some White Out -- remember that? -- reinsert the piece of paper, painstakingly line it up, and retype. Electric typewriters seemed like a luxury since you didn't have to tap on the keys that hard.
To listen to music, you used a record player. You had to be careful not to scratch the record, as a scratch could make the needle bounce back and forth, causing an endless loop of two seconds of music. Ironically, as the equipment to play it has gotten ever more sophisticated, the music itself has gone steadily downhill. Today you can use your iPod to listen to....rap.
Computers were huge machines with names like ENIAC that only people at places like IBM used, and frankly, at the time they seemed sort of pointless.
Without the internet, the reference of choice was the Enclopedia Britannica. (Remember how grand that sounded -- Britannica? To be educated back then was to be slightly Anglophilic.) The information got out of date from time to time, but the encyclopedia was still the ultimate authority on just about everything.
With no Facebook, we figured we were doing well to have just four or five friends.
And special friends -- the kind with privileges? If you wanted to advertise for them, you had to do it in the back of some sleazy publication. (Decent people did not do this.) Or you had to actually go places to possibly meet people, like the local bar, from which you would return smelling like secondhand smoke.
Kids must think of the 1960's the way we thought of the horse and buggy days.
What will they have forty years from now which will make today look like the Dark Ages?
Addendum, next morning: I had honestly intended to keep all sentimentality out of this post, and just emphasize how much better things are now. But I see that despite my intentions, a little bit did creep in.