The demise of soap operas (of which I was never a huge fan anyway) prompted me to write a rather long-winded piece recently, wherein I decided that DVRs were the final nail in the coffin of long-form serialized daytime dramatic television. Since then, I’ve been thinking a bit more about the disruptive technologies of the recent past and how my childhood differed from my son’s. I was interrupted in this reverie by a phone call, which ended up serving as a perfect example of the major differences.
Caller ID (didn’t exist for my childhood) showed me that The Boy was calling from a friend’s phone. The Boy requested that I bring him a particular toy from his bedroom. I wandered down the hall on my cordless phone (didn’t have that when I was a kid), and found the toy. I said to the child, “You’re at Friend’s house then?” Oh, no – they were at the park. And there went another piece of the implied landscape of my youth – a phone belonged to a location, not a person, when I was a kid.
We had a phone for the family, not for each member of it. We called people at home, and expected the person answering the phone to not necessarily be the person we were going to converse with. This seems to affect telephone etiquette, or my son’s peers are all just clueless gits. I presume the former, out of generosity. When I answer the phone when one of The Boy’s friends calls, it is almost painful to get out of them anything like a coherent statement. You know the kind we were taught to use as kids; something along the lines of, “Hello, this is Gary, I’m calling for James.” What I get now is some sputtering where, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to pick out the name of the child calling me. More often, it’s incomprehensible or a demand to speak to The Boy, with nothing like an introductory preamble. I’m convinced that all of his friends have their own personal phones now, so they just know to start talking when they answer. *Ring Ring* Look at phone, see it is James. Hey, James, what’s up? That sort of thing is so completely foreign to us old geezers, even if we are cell phone users. Think about it, how many times do you know who is calling you, and yet the person still goes through the (now old-fashioned) introduction? I predict that the “Hello” when answering the phone may eventually die out entirely, as nobody needs to just answer as if they don’t know who is calling them.
Meanwhile, people talk on the phone an awful lot more than we did. If you were lucky enough to not have siblings screaming at you for their turn, you might be able to have a half-hour conversation on the phone in the 1980s. That was probably all you’d get for a day or more. It’s not that we didn’t have more to say, we just got tired of sitting in the one room where we had a phone for so long. Now that phones are completely untethered from a wall, much less the house itself, why ever stop talking? And so we have people who stick their phones to their heads the moment they are no longer prohibited from doing so. Hey lady, just do the grocery shopping, stop discussing your latest sexual conquest at HEB, huh?
As everyone from Ogg the Caveman until the end of humanity notes, Things Are Different Now. Listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe recently, the youngest member of the crew had no idea what “F Troop” was. Nearly everyone from my generation and before knew the same television (and radio prior to TV) shows as everyone else in their generation. After all, we only had three channels. Shoot, even PBS has only existed since 1970, and for most of its early existence was consigned to the UHF dead zone.
So, we all watched Gilligan’s Island when we came home from school, oblivious to the fact that the show had been cancelled before we were even born. We knew all the characters in the Addams Family, which also ended four years before my birth. Such was the nature of the highly-syndicated rerun system of 1970s afternoon television, in the days before cable.
In pursuit of the desire for more options in entertainment and technology, we seem to have lost most of our generational shared experiences. Just about the only thing that seems to remain is popular music. Whether you like the songs or not, if you’re remotely aware of the outside world, you’ve probably heard Cee-Lo’s F You, or Pink’s F-ing Perfect, or Enrique Iglesias’s Tonight (I’m F-ing You). Yeah, I chose those examples because of my amusement at how far we’ve come in pop music. Not that any of those three actually has the F word in the radio version of the song, but what the heck?
If you ask someone born around 1940 what they remember from their childhood, many of them would reference “Fibber McGee and Molly” on the radio, listening to Bo Diddley and Elvis, and the films of Hitchock or stars like Cary Grant, and of course Sputnik and Apollo. When you ask someone born around 1970 what they remember from their childhood, you’ll get references to “The Brady Bunch;” listening to Joan Jett, Johnny Cougar (neé Mellencamp), Madonna, and Michael Jackson; movies like Star Wars, ET, and the Breakfast Club; and the space shuttle (first launch and the first explosion). When kids today look back in nostalgia at the early 21st Century, will any significant percentage be thinking of the same things? Will the customized nature of modern society mean the end of common experiences? And is that even a bad thing anyway?