People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.

In the Olden Days

When I was a little girl, I loved to ask my mom, “What was it like when you were a little girl in the olden days?”

And I was sort of kidding because I did, in fact, know that the 1950s were not the olden days, but I did love to hear how life was different for her than for me.

But the differences?ย Minuscule. My mom was born in 1948. I was born in 1971. Life for the average family didn’t change much in the years between her childhood and mine.

There was television, of course. My mom’s family didn’t get a TV set until my mom was in junior high school. We had a black and white set in my earliest memories and got our first color set in 1977. My mom always wore a dress or a skirt and blouse to school; we were allowed to wear pants (but not shorts).

Aaand that’s about it. I mean, really, why was I so interested? I’m sure my fascination with Little House on the Prairie played a part, though I was well aware that my mom was much younger than Ma Ingalls. Who knows? I was curious; I hoped there would be vast differences.

I was in middle school when life started to change, though it didn’t seem especially dramatic at the time. But much as they didn’t seem dramatic, they were, and the world my kids are growing up in is drastically different than the one that I would have recognized as an 8 or 12 year old child.

My dad bought a calculator; we got a microwave oven; there was a new gadget that could answer the phone when we weren’t home; there was a phone that didn’t need a cord.

How bizarre is it that some of those things are now, themselves, obsolete?

And so it went. One new something, then another new something, and then? In 1983, my dad brought home a computer.

Not that it was especially exciting. It was a Kaypro 10, a gigantic beast of a machine that boasted a 10 megabyte hard drive. Yes, 10 MEGAbytes.

I know, right? I have half-a-dozen devices around here with hundreds or thousands of times more capacity than that huge machine had, all of them the size of a deck of cards or smaller.

Also? That machine had one disc drive for 5 1/4 inch floppy discs. Those old floppy discs usually had a 360 kilobyte capacity.

Which leaves me to wonder: why bother? The machine was huge but was little more than a juiced-up calculator/typewriter hybrid.

So get this: pathetic as that tiny 10 megabyte hard drive sounds? It was one of the first computers to ship with a hard drive at all. The next computer we had was an Apple IIe, which had no hard drive. The operating system was on every program disc.

No shit.

The Apple was a major upgrade, though, having (as it did, wonderfully) two floppy disc drives and…

Whoa. I was about to geek out and tell you about the IIe compared to the Macintosh we got in 1984. Let’s just skip that because I’m not a real geek.

Oh, and the printer. Don’t forget about the printer, loud as a typewriter but super-fast (Heh; it’s all relative, isn’t it? I doubt a dot matrix printer would seem fast now.), and with all those lovely strips of paper to peel off the sides when the printing was finished.

My kids love stories about that Kaypro 10. How archaic! How olden-timey! How ridiculous! Because really, they are mocking me. Their faces say, “How foolish of you! Why were you duped into believing that something so silly was innovative and exciting? Why didn’t you just hold out for the good stuff? The iPods and the cell phones?”

They also cannot comprehend not knowing a thing, but wanting to know that thing, and waiting to find out about that thing until they could learn about it from a book in a library. “But what if you really wanted to know and wondering was making your brain all itchy? What did you do? There must have been some way to make the computer find out for you, right?” they ask. Then it is my turn to make a mocking, how foolish of you face.

Imagine it: computers that could not talk to other computers; computers that only knew what they knew and nothing else, unless you used magical indecipherable coding language and told them something else. They can’t imagine it because they don’t see the point.

I considered telling them about web 2.0, and how it didn’t used to be this way, how the internet used to be more like TV or books and less like…what it is now.

I fear I will strain their eye-rolling muscles with that, so I’ve skipped it for now. They can’t conceive of the internet when it was all pages to advertise Tide and paid-subscription sites for newspapers. I assume they’ll take a class in college where they will study the bad-old days of web 1.0.

I assume, too, that they will laugh until they pee.

One time, I tried to tell them about card catalogs. It was like I was describing the time we lived in that cave next to a family of wooly mammoth. “Wouldn’t the cards get lost all the time?” they want to know. “The librarian couldn’t have typed all those cards, right? Because that would be ridiculous,” and we went round-and-round for 20 minutes and they refused to believe me.

Until I showed them a picture of a real card catalog by using Google image search, because of course Google knows these things and ordinary old (emphasis on old) moms do not.

They are unconvinced when I tell them that we didn’t know that electric typewriters (so wonderful, compared to the manual on which I learned), Walkmen, and cordless phones weren’t the greatest things that technological innovations could ever give us.

My Walkman really did seem like the greatest thing ever. The annual family vacation got infinitely more tolerable after my Walkman came on the scene.

I’m suddenly compelled to sing songs from the soundtrack to the movie Footloose.

My children? Suddenly compelled to come to my office door and roll their eyes loudly.

Yes, loudly. If you do not yet have children of an eye-rolling age, just trust me: it can be done loudly.

Carter is the funniest, though (and also kind of my favorite because he does not yet roll his eyes). The older kids at least remember VHS. Spencer gave Carter an old VCR and a stack of VHS tapes, but Carter can’t get the hang of calling them “tapes.” He calls them “the big square movie discs.” He also can’t get the hang of rewinding them; he’s never had to do such a thing before and the whole concept just escapes him. “Where’s the menu, Mom?” he hollers, jabbing buttons on the remote control. “I can’t start the movie without the menu! Here, you push the menu button. It won’t work for me!”

As bad as the card catalog conversation was, the “we didn’t always have remote controls” was worse.

When I told them that, during my entire childhood, we only had 4 (5 after we got Fox on UHF) TV channels from which to choose? They looked at me like I had an extra face on the front of my head.

Last time Carter and I went to a thrift store, he discovered a display of vinyl record albums. He asked me what they were and I said, “Those are record albums. It’s how we listened to music when I was a little girl.”

“Oh!” says my boy, “so they’re olden-days CDs!”

And yes, of course they are. He understands the albums better than cassettes. I showed him the little recorder I used in college, how you could rewind, fast-forward, play, and record. He pulled the cassette out, tugged on the tape, and destroyed the thing like some kind of alien that insists on eating rocks and smelling everyone’s ears.

Hello? Am I alone, or were we listening to tapes and watching movies on VHS not all that long ago?

Things have changed and continue to change. That doesn’t surprise me. What shocks me is the rate at which things are changing. When I was a kid and I wanted to talk on the phone? I went to the desk in the family room, sat in the chair next to the desk, and dialed. Not “dialed” in the sense that I pushed some buttons and called it dialing, but actually spun a dial around in a circle, YANK went the little metal piece, chucka chucka chucka it went back to start. ย Then, I was tethered to the desk for the duration of the conversation.

I remember exactly what dialing the phone felt and sounded like. I loved dialing the phone and was a little sad when everyone started switching to phones with buttons.

Now? My kids use very different phones, in very different ways, in a decidedly un-tethered fashion. They don’t even have to talk!

Also, I’m here to tell you that the jokes on the internet and TV about adolescent girls and their lightning-fast texting fingers? No exaggeration whatsoever. I wish there was a way to test Abbie’s WPM rate on her phone. It’s unreal.

I don’t mind that things are changing. Most of the changes, I like it all very much. It would be nice, though, if my kids didn’t act like I’m a complete idiot when I tell them how things used to be.

That, of course, is not new at all. Kids of a certain age think their parents are fools.

Some things will never change.

ETA: My dad* tells me we never owned an Apple IIe; we went straight from the Kaypro to a Macintosh 575 all-in-one. So now I am corrected, as are you. Everyone wave hi to Wendell!

*My dad? A real geek, not the fake kind like me. We’re very proud.**

**OK, facetiousness aside, we are very proud, except that he only uses Apple machines. This makes him, as a computer expert, pretty much useless to me because there is no way I can afford to buy Apple computers. (That was two links from this, my very influential blog. I’ll probably find a Macbook Air and an iPad in my mailbox tomorrow, right? Because I would totally break my no-product-review rule for that shit. Look, two more links! Apple people? I prefer black devices to white. But I’ll leave it up to you.)

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27 comments to In the Olden Days

  • haha – this brought back a LOT of memories – i’m also a 1971 baby ๐Ÿ™‚

    i have here at my desk a corded phone because for some reason we can not figure out using the cordless phone when my son is online breaking up his wireless signal – this same son, 11yrs, thinks this corded phone is the coolest thing! cracks me up ๐Ÿ™‚

  • First, I feel compelled to confess my undying love for Little House on the Prairie as well. Love.

    I also love this post, so many things I remember too and it really doesn’t seem all that long ago! I never used a computer for anything beyond some basic word processing and antiquated games until I went to college (1993). I thought it was ridiculous when I got there and they made me register this “email account” that I knew I would never use. Who knew?

    • Oh, another sister in LHOTP love. I can never have too many of those!

      OK, so my last boss? She actually said this to me: This internet thing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

      LAST YEAR! I about died.

  • The Old Lady

    OK, Ok, I may have sounded deprived when you asked me about the olden days, but I did get to watch the Mickey Mouse Club on television. We were abused kids because we did have to wait for a TV, but not until junior high. I was a 3rd grader when we got our set. And, talking of telephones, I remember when we picked up the receiver and the operator said “Number Please” then she put you through from a switchboard. You don’t remember having to make a choice between making a house to house or person to person long distance call. There was a difference in charge. I was the only person in my dorm in college who had this way cool new innovation called a stereo cassette player, which replaced reel to reel recorder players. You are right, the changes seem small when the happen, and when we look back, things are drastically different. But, by comparison, my Grandma was born before the Wright brothers took their first flight, and lived long enough to see the first man on the moon. So, maybe big, fast changes have been happening for longer than we think.

    • I love reading Grandma’s senior yearbook. The phone numbers are all one or 2 digits!

      No, I don’t remember needing the operator, though I do remember when long distance calls were really expensive. And I never thought your childhood sounded deprived; I thought it sounded almost exactly like mine!

  • I really want a rotary dial phone. I don’t have a land line yet, but I just love the feel of them. I guess I’m an old lady at heart, har har.

  • Little House on the Prairie is the greatest show ever! I totally bawled when Laura got married. But then again I cried when Barbara Cooper got married too. And? I still have a fax machine only it’s part of the printer/scanner/copier…I gotta go. My brain is all itchy.

    • I’m gathering LHOTP lovers like a snowball rolling down a hill. Makes me all kinds of happy.

      I didn’t mean to make your brain itch. Coffee will probably scratch it for you, right?

  • this post made me all giggly and i read large portions of it out loud to the hubs. i was a 78 baby and i totally remember my uncle having a BAG PHONE! Ha ha ha ha! It really can make your head spin when you think of how far technology can come in a person’s lifetime. Pretty amazing. And my students? They think I am old because we didn’t have a microwave until I was in middle school.

    • Things have changed SO fast! I’m not especially alarmed by it (obviously I’m a fan of the new technology), but I can see why some people are all freaked out. Life is very different for our kids! Even with the limits we’ve put on things (esp. video games; none at our house), they live a much more digital life than we could have even imagined.

  • I remember many of these things. Our old green and black DOS computer. Floppy discs, my cassette player, card catalogs… so you can’t be *that* old because I’m not *that* old either. Shut up, I’m not either.

    I can hear Carter’s eyes rolling…

    • YOU remember card catalogs? The rest makes sense, but most libraries started going to microfiche in the early 80s (another thing that was exciting and new and is now obsolete). Wow. You must be WAY older than I thought. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Lori

    I was born in 1972 and I well remember everything you’re talking about. I remember having a remote to our VCR that attached with a cord (greatly limiting its use) but we still thought it was the coolest thing ever.

    I did have an Apple IIe – I won it in a contest when I was in 8th grade. The only thing I ever figured out how to do on it was play Wheel of Fortune – chunky, pixelated characters appeared on screen and you pressed buttons to try and answer the questions correctly. I thought it was great.

    Thanks for the reminders of my childhood ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I remember those remotes with cords! We never had one, but people had cable had these giant boxes with dozens of huge buttons. It was attached to the TV by a 20 foot cord. Really weird.

      On they Kaypro, we played a game that was sort of like…crap…I can’t remember the name. With the gorilla, and the princess you had to save. Whatever. All with the green dashes and dots. We thought it was a pretty awesome thing!

  • I was born in 1965. I remember my uncle buying us the first “video game” — PONG. I remember having a party line (we lived in the country) so if you wanted to make a call you had to make sure no one else was using the line, and if you were using the phone to have a very delicate or private conversation, you had to listen very carefully for the nearly inaudible sound of someone else picking up the phone so that you weren’t eavesdropped on. Oh my, I haven’t even BEGUN to try and explain those days to my children. Someday they’ll learn all about the period from 1970 through 1995 and they’ll have a whole new admiration for me. They’ll think I’m a wagon-train pioneer.

  • I remember that not only was there no remote, the analog dial used to change the channels was so hard to turn, I couldn’t do it by myself when I was really little, and I had to call my parents for help if I wanted to switch between the three stations…

  • Ashley (@theatomicmommy)

    Love your post! I wasn’t born until 1984, but so much has changed even since I was born that I know exactly how you feel. When I was a kid I listened to a cassette, and my five year old has an Old Navy t-shirt with cassettes all over the front. I about died when he asked me what they were.

    Also, the old rotary phones do still work. My aunt has one. That is all she will use!

  • Anne

    Reading your blog and all the comments bring up so many memories. I’m of your mother’s generation and technology has changed so much…it’s often been my grown daughters who have convinced us to upgrade. (Why do I need a DVD player when VHS is just fine? Sonja finally bought me one – OH! Why would I need Tivo when I can record on VHS. Now have DVR and can’t imagine living without.) As a child we lived with a tiny little B&W TV that was in a huge console for years. (Anyone remember Howdy Doody?) I also recall in my twenties when a friend of mine got a got a color TV with remote – the color part was nice but I thought what was the point of the remote when one could perfectly well get up and change channels. Of course, our dial had broken so we were changing channels with a set of plyers.
    Now, I’m trying to upgrade media. Years ago I transferred a bunch of old 8mm family film to VHS and set music to it since the film was silent. Now all the events we’ve recorded on tape I’m trying to transfer to DVD. But I’m afraid that will be outdated soon enough and then what?
    As for dial phones…I was actually very glad to go touch tone although when they first came out you had the option of pulse or touch. Touch tone actually cost more…so I went with pulse which, even though I could press buttons rather than go around a dial, you still heard the click click click as if it were rotary and it took as long. Then it didn’t cost more and I was really glad so I bought my mother a touch phone for her birthday. She never liked it and continued to use her rotary phone until she died. Oh, and that was back in the day when those phones were provided by the phone co. You didn’t just go to the store and buy a phone. So, after her death I called the phone company just in case they might want their property back. Even though the rep was polite, I’m sure she must have been chuckling under her breath and had a good story to take home. BTW, Adrienne, I do think they still work and that’s why many of those voice trees you get into give you the option to “say or press” whatever number. I threw mom’s phone away. If I’d known you wanted one….
    And we did have a party line when I was a kid. So annoying when you wanted to make a call and your neighbor was extra gabby. (We just had to dial 4 digits then.)
    The corded touch phone I gave Mom is now on my desk which we keep in case of a power outage; although with cell phones that’s probably not even necessary. Still, it brings back memories….just as your blog has.
    And I won’t even get into the computer conversation except to say my very first was a Mac 512k with dot matrix printer when I attended grad school in the late 80s. My niece at age 5 was in Montessori school at the time and they were using the same thing. Sorry, speaking of youth and technology, that reminds me of one more thing: My father-in-law (pushing 95 this month) is actually quite computer savvy but when he went to take an evening class to learn new stuff, the class had to end before a certain time because the instructor was under 18.

  • I was pretty poor growing up, so I remember being about 13 when my dad brought home our first computer. And he crashed it that same night and basically rendered it useless. And he was so proud of it and afraid we’d break it that we could only use it TO TYPE ON when he was hovering over us. Now? We have more computers in my house than people to use them thanks to my husbands geekery.

    Times, they are a’ changin…
    Miranda recently posted..First of all

  • Born in 1965!

    I am the proud owner of a stack of 4 solid oak card catalogs from the University of Washington law library. They went to the surplus store, and I snagged them quick! I use them to store all of my crafting supplies. I love them more than I love warm toast with fresh butter.

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