So, recently I was at the one and only Smokey Joe’s Cigar Lounge — in beautiful downtown Springfield — enjoying a good cigar, an adult beverage and lively conversation. (Truth be told, I am twice a week on a very regularly basis.)

The conversation often travels like a bumper car careening from one subject and then bouncing to another, often with very little logic. It can go from food to movies to sports to politics, both national and local, with delightful unpredictability. The subjects can be serious or flippant. I’ve had to defend the existence of Thanksgiving green bean casserole on more than one occasion.

That is one of the principal charms of the place.

One night, a younger member looked at older members of the group and asked with a certain level of innocence whether or not anyone of us had ever used a rotary-dial phone. It was clear by his asking he considered this is to some sort of ancient technology, something that archeologists will dig up soon, questioning its importance.

Now, the group is all mature folks, but I’m oldest of them and I instinctively took the point. I replied, “What do you think? I’m 69 years old.”

(I just turned 70, and thank you for the birthday greetings.)

Perhaps my answer was a little harsh. I probably used a couple of profanities to underscore my amazement.

Looking back, though, I can see that he would assume this would be technology so ancient that it would be the subject of archeological study — “People would direct their message to another subject by using the rotating dial with corresponding numbers. With their other hand they would hold a dual receiver and microphone to their ear. Every part of this technology depended upon the use of wires.”

My maternal grandmother lived with us for many years. She came from northern California, and some of her ancestors were attracted to the state because of the Gold Rush. I enjoyed speaking to her about the family history, and one day I realized all of the technological and cultural changes she saw during her life, from the electrification of the country to living through every war since the start of the 20th century.

This little bit of conversation, coming near my turning 70, made me realize the shoe was indeed on the other foot. I’m now part of a generation that lived with and through many things that seem alien to people today.
So, in the interest of bridging the gap between generations, allow me to introduce some examples. For younger readers this information might help what grandma and grandpa are talking about.

There were just three TV stations in this region, four when PBS showed up. You bought TV Guide every week or saved the newspaper with the TV listings in order to figure out what was on. Cable TV didn’t turn up until the 1980s, and not in every community. Most people did not have remotes, so you had to — brace yourself — get out of your chair and go to the TV to change the channel. If you were lucky, you made a younger sibling do that.

There were telephones in key locations through which you could make calls from a dime or quarter. You used these to have private calls or to get assistance if your car broke down.

Long-distance calls cost money. If you wanted to get your parents upset, talk to your new crush who lived outside your area code for an hour. In the case of a non-time-sensitive conversation with someone, you wrote a letter and mailed it. The Post Office offered quicker delivery by charging more money to put your letter on an airplane.

If you were working on a school project, you would go to the library to obtain the reference information you needed. Perhaps your parents had the money or inclination to buy a set of encyclopedias, so you could have a whole bunch of information in the house. Teachers would still make you get multiple sources, though.

You bought your stuff at actual stores, most of them owned and operated by local businesspeople. Mail-order catalogs existed, which were very important to people who lived in rural areas.

As a writer, I used a typewriter which employed actual paper on which words were printed. Made a mistake? You started over or tried to hide it by erasing it or using white paint.

I know, it sounds so damn primitive, doesn’t it? Actually, we thought we were in the era of great technological enlightenment. We were sending people into space, even to the moon.

I realize that if the statistics for the length of life of American men are true, I have about eight more years on this planet. That means I’m sure to see more advances that will make my childhood and young adult years seem even more like living in a cave than now.

I’m glad to have lived to 70 and to have enjoyed the evolution of American life. I just wish that all those predictions about having a flying car when I was a kid had come true.

+ posts