I love watching TV shows that depict life in past decades because it’s fun trying to remember when a piece of technology was launched and how we ever got along without it. In a recent episode of TV’s “Mad Men” (Season 7), the 1969-era ad agency’s media department laments that they can’t continue to rely exclusively on creative talent as a competitive advantage. Their solution? Buy a computer. The episode caused me to pause and recall the office environment prior to computing, and I wondered how anyone made it through the day or why they bothered to go to work at all because how could anyone possibly be even a tiny bit productive without a computer?
Then I recall that I actually did work in an environment that was (shudder) devoid of computers. Fresh out of college, in 1987, I worked for a PR agency that had a single computer serving more than 20 people. Back then, its computing power was essentially untapped, as it was used mostly for word processing. Still, that computer was a huge and exciting boost to our productivity. “You can edit what was previously typed … and you don’t need Whiteout!”
As a fairly irritating father of two boys, I have spent many family car trips regaling them with stories about what technology was like when I was a kid. Trapped in the back seat of the car, they were forced to suffer through a lot of these stories, such as me telling them how I awoke one Christmas morning to find a video game console called Pong nestled under the tree, and how I was legitimately thrilled to be able to do nothing more than monotonously bat a tiny white blip back and forth across a black TV screen. Beep … boop … beep. And, they also know that the little storage card in my camera contains more than 30 times the storage capacity of the first computer I had in 1986. Apparently, this is a story I seem to share with them a couple of times per year, because they become increasingly irritated each time I tell it, which going forward will be monthly.
I wanted my kids to be amazed by how far we have come, but from the back seat of the car they simply would look up from their hand-held gaming devices long enough to roll their eyes and say, “Borrring.”
It’s not their fault that I’m boring
While I grew up playing vibrating electronic football (“It uses real electricity!”) and the board game Operation (“Wow! His nose lights up!”), my sons have had a more sophisticated technology experience. They never have known a world without Internet and mobile phones and GPS.
In 1876, when Alexander Graham Bell made the world’s first phone call to his assistant, Thomas Watson (you remember: “Watson, come here, I want to see you”), Watson probably didn’t roll his eyes and declare, “My dear Mr. Bell, I must assert you to be … borrring.” That’s because it was new and fresh and amazing.
Whereas the slightest advancement in technology once caused our respective heads to spin, we now casually shrug off that which would have been considered jaw-dropping to previous generations. Why? It’s because my sons, and every new generation to follow, are victims of the advanced technology curve that has occurred in their lifetime. It’s too difficult to impress them with new technology because they are technologically spoiled.
We’ve been boring people for generations
Whether you are a Millennial or from The Greatest Generation, the truth is that every generation likes to wax eloquent about how far technology has advanced in their lifetime. My father used to reminisce about the days of party-line telephones and life before air conditioning, and he would tell me that someday I probably would drive my kids around in a flying car. (Um, how ‘bout it, Science?) I would suspect that even the generation of cave men who discovered fire probably bored their furry little sons with tales of The Days Before Fire. Cave man, speaking to son: “When me was small, eat mammoth raw. No fancy-schmancy fire to make cooking. (scoff)”
I recall being at a party in 1984, gathered around a Macintosh computer and watching a friend tool around in the MacPaint program, saying, “And if you click this little paint-can tool, you can spray paint on the screen.” A humble bit of graphic functionality today, but on that evening there were audible gasps that could be heard above Depeche Mode’s “People Are People” blaring on the turntable.
Now I can’t do anything else until I hear that Depeche Mode song. (Four minutes later) OK, I’m back.
Jane, stop this crazy thing
Part of the “When I was a kid” exercise of talking with your kids about the rapid advancement of technology is helping them dream about all the amazing wizardry that could come to fruition in their lifetimes. It’s important for you to suggest that they likely will have this same “when I was a kid” discussion one day with their own children. And while the next generation of kids will hear these stories, roll their eyes, and likely once again proclaim boredom, at least it might be from the back seat of a flying car.
Pull up a rocking chair and spin a yarn about your old-timey technology
When you talk about how far technology has come in your lifetime, what are the stories that you tell? When you were a kid, what stories about technology advancement did you hear from parents or grandparents? What is your favorite Depeche Mode song?