Me in the Dark Ages

Symphony Gala 1

In the dark ages, friends didn’t text each other. We just got together and played. In case you’re wondering, that’s me, second from right.

I grew up in the dark ages, long before gizmos, gadgets and whatnots. Back in the day when they were just beginning to test the limits of commercialism on TV, and had yet to discover the boob tube’s potential to educate. We’re talking pre-Sesame Street, which has been on for a gazillion years. Everything on TV in those days was innocent, silly, and a bit primitive. Think Uncle Miltie, The Mickey Mouse Club and Topo Gigio. Talk about a bunch of happy misfits!

We watched our favorite TV shows when they were on. There was no such thing as recording them to watch later. In college, I had friends who would plan their class schedule around their favorite soap operas, so that they wouldn’t miss a single installment. Ah, how times have changed.

In high school, we had a class on computers but there was only one computer for the entire class and it was ginormous. For all intents and purposes, I do not recall it having a keyboard, let alone a mouse. The good intentioned teacher cajoled me into taking his class on account that I happened to be walking by his classroom as it was getting started and I was the only girl he could sucker into it. I mean, no one was interested in learning binary language, least of all me.

I soon dropped out. Me and my forward way of thinking had me questioning the value of such a class. I was convinced I’d never have use for a computer. After all, it seemed only financial institutions had them, and they were too big to ever imagine a day when they’d be in every home. Preposterous!

Without all the bells and whistles we have today, I depended on very archaic ways of communicating, like talking in person, writing letters that got mailed through the U.S. postal system–yes, we used snail mail!–and Ma Bell.

A word about Ma Bell. AT&T wasn’t called that until much later when the federal government forced it to break up the monopoly it had. Before said breakup, there was only one way to get telephone service in your home, and that was through AT&T. And you could only rent the phone, not buy it, and said phone came in just one color: standard issue black.

I could spend hours spinning my index finger in the wheel of the rotary phone, and dialing up friends to chat with, until some parent would yell,

“Stop hogging the phone! You’re not the only one who needs to use it!”

Yep, everyone in the house had to use the same phone line, no if’s or and’s or but’s. We didn’t each have our own phone, like we do now.

And here’s another thing you need to know about the dark ages: Unless you were filthy rich and had a phone in your Rolls-Royce, you had no way to instantly communicate with loved ones when not at home.  Sure, we had phone booths on nearly every corner, but it was pretty much useless to use one to place a call if the person at you were calling wasn’t at home. And it wasn’t as if you could leave them a message because there were no answering machines! So, when you went out you were pretty much incommunicado. Boy, were we roughing it.

I’ll never forget the time I was supposed to meet my college boyfriend at the George Washington Bus depot.

I was two hours late!

And if there’s one thing you should know about me is I pride myself on being on time. Even early. But never late.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was so darn late, I felt terrible and anxious because there was no way on earth to get word to him and I was pretty sure that he’d be gone by the time I did arrive. Luckily, I was wrong about that.

Maxwell Smart the secret agent battling C.H.A.O.S., was the only man I knew with a portable phone. Of course, it was in his shoe. Sure, it was a ridiculous concept–not the one about having a shoe for a phone, but the idea of having a portable one. Yet that’s what made it funny and we all laughed, never imagining a future where such a thing might actually come to pass. Although I’m still waiting for my shoe phone.

As for video games, they didn’t show up on my radar until the early 1980s when some retailer handed me the first Pac-Man game and I was immediately hooked. Prior to that, we played board games and when outdoors, we’d ride our bikes and play games like Mother May I?, Simon Says, and Red light, Green light.

Which brings us to today. The world has changed and then some. Just about everyone has a smart phone. Email has replaced snail mail and texting has taken over the art of talking on the phone. No one listens to records, eight track, cassettes or even CD’s, and video games are everywhere. TV shows can be watched anywhere, anytime, catering to you and your needs.

For better, for worse, we’ve come a long way, baby. Some might say we’ve lost something in the process, like that physical contact and connection we used to make, human to human. If you’re too young to remember, ask your mom, dad or any Baby Boomer you know, as to what it was like. They’ll happily tell you.

Who knows what the next fifty years will bring? Maybe one day we’ll all be living in individual pods that are wired to the hilt, but no physical connection whatsoever, with anyone else. Maybe then it’ll be you pining for the old days (aka, these days), much like my oldest brother, who hasn’t acclimated to all these advances, does now.  But if that happens, I’ll tell you what I told him:

Progress will get you every time, so you might as well accept it. Now, good night and good luck.

How about you? How are you dealing with all these whiz-bang advances in your life?






25 thoughts on “Me in the Dark Ages

  1. Monica, would you believe it wasn’t until a few months back that I got a smart phone? Up until then, I relied on an old Nokia that was older than Christ. I still can’t say I’m wired. I see the value to technology but I also see its detrimental effects on the nuclear family. You rarely see people sitting in a restaurant without their smartphones by their sides. It infuriates me to see how people are rude enough to interrupt a conversation simply because they have to read or send a text. I guess I’m old school that way. Give me a cup of coffee, a danish, and good conversation and I’m a happy woman! Holiday greetings to you, Sir Henry, and Oliver! 🙂

  2. I remember all that, I remember party lines also. Do you? Not only did you share the phone with everyone in the house, you shared your line with someone else, gawd help you if they ran their mouth all day long (I had one of those).

    I remember my first cell phone it was huge.
    I remember my first computer too, I programmed in basic and it didn’t do very much at all, no games no internet.

    What a great walk down memory lane Monica. Thanks.

    • I do not remember having a party line. It’s possible they stopped having them in metropolitan New York long before in other places. Though I do remember going to see a Doris Day/Rock Hudson flick in which the premise was that they shared a party line, and i though the idea of it was pretty funny. But I remember all the rest that you mention. My brother kept his first cell phone and it’s a doozy!

  3. I deal with the wiz bang things. I am very attracted to technology that is cool and point and click. No problem. But when it is more than that, I get overwhelmed. I don’t buy all the newest gadgets, but I was due for a new phone this fall. Yippee for me!

  4. Monica, this is one of my favorite posts. I have been waiting to write a little something.. I did not grow up with a t.v. We got it when I was 12 – I think. I watched Lassie in black and white. My brother and I spent most of our time in our garden. When friends came over, we played on our trees; climbing, pretending we had a tree- house. I read my favorite books on my favorite tree. No video games, no calculators.
    With my girls thus far, they go to a school where long division is taught with material and as such they work it out, the way we worked things out. As they advance however, tests are now done on iPads. I’m not sure if it is good or bad, it is what it is. There are so many advances now that I’m generally gob smacked, when I think about what we did not have and how we managed.

    • MM, I’m glad I’m not the only one noticing all the changes. But as many have commented here, there’s a lot to be said for the advances. I can’t imagine going back to not having a cell phone and being incommunicado. On the other hand, it’s important we find a way to instill in our young the importance, the need of just playing outdoors with friends. The simple things and the joy they bring.

  5. I must say the ability to maximize time by folding in connections is huge today, not to mention the actual connecting with people who would have otherwise become lost.

    I think we are the very same generation as I relate to every detail in your post.

    Parenting today is harder competing with not just television but Wii, games, etc. When we were younger the parents asked us to call when we got to the party. Now when kids call, we have no clue where they are, and to ask them where they are is “invading” their “my space.” Delicate matters are bereft of them. I can sit on the bathroom throne and a portable phone arms its way into the bathroom saying, “It’s for you.” Sheeesh! The boundaries were clearer in the dark ages, light or dark, black or white…which brings up another thing. When I went to college, I left behind a black and white TV. When I came home for Christmas it was color and sitting on the dining room table. In a matter of months the rules changed from mine to my younger siblings. Like Robert…you may have inspired a post in the making.

    • Georgette, It seems there’s so much to occupy our minds these days. I myself often feel overwhelmed, with no down time, and feel guilty if I find myself relaxing. Always seems like there’s so much to do, and I think all our gadgets play a part in why this is. Something to ponder. I hope you do write more on the subject.

  6. I think instant access (almost 24/7) is not a good thing . . .and may even be turning us into nervous wrecks (i.e., there’s an expectation of availability, etc.). At the same time, technology makes possible things once unimaginable. Like you, I share a nostalgia for what seemed like a simpler time; then I remind myself, there’s no turning back but there are ways to pull out of the technology trap from time to time, slow down our own personal clocks.

    • Deborah, I’m not saying all these advances are good or bad. I’m just saying our lives have been changed forever because of them. Only time will tell what long term impact this has on us and our ability to interact with each other.

  7. I do miss the written letter, but I will turn to an email before writing. Like Kim, I do love technology. I am sitting here on my comfy chair in the 7 free minutes I have today reading your blog, which I so enjoy) on my MacBook. If not for this I might not have found you or have gotten up to sit in front of a desk top. I suspect there is much we have lost with all our gadgets, but there are few I would hate to lose. Great post, Monica. You’ve reminded us to appreciate what we had and have, and what has been lost.

    I told my boys that I took typing class and they both fell on the floor roaring!
    …but I must say, I LOOOOOOOve technology.
    Monica, I remember writing/typing poetry and having crinkled up white paper overflowing upon the floor! Do you?


    • I took typing class, too! One of the best things I ever did, frankly. We may no longer be using typewriters, but we are using keyboards, so it’s come in very handy indeed. Can never understand those who have to hunt and peck. I wouldn’t have the patience! Thanks for tweeting my post!

  9. Ah, Monica, this post is really like strolling back into time! I was one of the lucky ones, who played face-to-face with friends rather than texting, so I think kids today are losing out. And I, too, remember holing up in the closet to conspire with my friends on the phone without my family listening in.

    Have you noticed how, just in Domer’s lifetime, photographs have really improved? Why, his baby pictures are so grainy and fuzzy, despite being taken with a real camera, yet his cell phone pictures are clear and lifelike. Amazing!

    I did know some people in college who took computer classes, but they were a mystery to me. Who’d’a thought I’d be joining them years later?! And how many MOMS are working in the tech field today, heehee?!

    • There’s no way you can explain to them, though, that today’s kids are missing out. They think it’s just fine. They’re living a different life from the one we had. Yes, we had it good in so many ways. Btw, do you remember S&H green stamps? We bought so many things with those. I remember with great fondness sticking the stamps into the books.

      • Here in the UK S&H stamps were pink, we had Greenshield Stamps which were green.

        I remember sticking them in my grans books, she collected them with a passion.

  10. Great post Monica.

    Like you I can remember the days before all this electronic wizardry was available.

    I remember queueing at a phone box for almost an hour to make a call, now they are being taken out because nobody uses them. When we had a home phone we had to book a time slot for a call to overseas at Christmas, no direct dialling in those days for overseas calls.

    We had three TV channels when I was young and I can remember the excitement of the arrival of colour television. No 24 hour TV, when breakfast TV arrived there was an outcry that breakfast with all the family would be a thing of the past.

    One year for Christmas I got a reel to reel tape recorder, I was like a pig in a puddle.

    We had no calculators instead we used slide rules and log tables. Some people think I am strange because I still normally use a fountain pen when I scribble down notes.

    These days I love technology, my business could not function without my computers and their internet connection. But I can remember when I first started selling computers, they were a black art with small hard drives I chuckle when I think back to people trying to decide wether to buy a machine with a 10Mb or a 20Mb hard drive, they settled on the former because they could not imagine ever needing 20Mb of storage. A year or so ago I threw out a box of eight inch floppy disks.

    Some time ago I was on a bus doing some work on my iPad and I heard a little girl say to her mother “Mum that mans got a iPad, but he is old!!”

    Oh happy days!!!!!

    • You practically wrote a post of your own here! Yes, I remember life before calculators and learning long division. I lived in the big city, New York, where we had five–count them–five channels and it seemed more than enough. Weren’t we happy with what we had? We simply made do and somehow it was enough. Thanks for sharing all your memories. Enjoyed this “post” very much!

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