I have seen the past and it scares me

Batman and robin

There is no easier way to frighten the pants off of anyone over thirty than by telling them anecdotes that make it abundantly clear that they are aging: ‘The Tale Of the Little Girl Who Had No Idea What A VHS Tape Was’, ‘I Handed A Child A Real Photograph And It Tried To Zoom In Using Its Fingers (A True Story)’, ‘What Is The Relation Between A Cassette Tape And A Pencil: A Horror Story In Two Acts’. Thirty-somethings now stand around at parties whispering about the intern at work who only remembers floppy disks because of the ‘save’ icon, and whose childhood memories of ‘Batman’ are of Christian Bale, not Adam West (and this reference will date itself once Ben Affleck takes over the franchise, I’m sure). At those times the generation gap seems more like a chasm, impossible to bridge.

Just as a gramophone or telephone switchboard has no direct meaning for us and is only a relic from the past, the generation below us will have no frame of reference for many things that once seemed the pinnacle of modern technology to us. Recently I heard a song on the radio that referenced an answering machine, and I caught myself thinking who even has one of those in the age of smartphones and voicemail. Perhaps it will be relevant again in the future, when we finally have servant robots to take our calls, but until then I’ll just feel as old as the hills when I hear those lyrics.

I’m sure this feeling is nothing new, our parents must have felt the same astonishment when we had no idea how to work the rotary dial on a telephone, or didn’t know what the antenna on a television was for. The breakneck speed of technological advancement just means that there’s a lot more things for our generation that make us feel ancient: the sound of dial-up modems, pagers, old-school Gameboys, AltaVista, roll films, and dot matrix printers, to name a few.

But there’s hope: sometimes things from the olden days get to make a comeback. Polaroid has achieved minor success in the hipster crowd, there’s more music available on vinyl than you’d imagine, Star Trek movies are incredibly popular and even the Care Bears have been granted new life. After becoming tinier and tinier for years, mobile phones are now often the size of a brick again (which suits me fine: they’re far harder to lose that way). And the archival nature of the internet means we can easily share our nostalgia with the next generation: I can’t wait to watch Pinky & The Brain with my nephew. And perhaps he’ll even get to wonder what the hell we were keeping animals in laboratories for.

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86 thoughts on “I have seen the past and it scares me

  1. I always find it hilarious to talk to young people who have never seen an Atari 2600 game’s stick figures that we thought were fantastic, but then again, I also had a “Pong” game and my first computer used large floppy disks and a paper printer. We also had a 5-digit phone number. Great read!

  2. The novelty-value duration of any given ‘latest-thing’ is getting progressively shorter, so a human generation is getting shorter too. How is that going to work? Maybe first born child is poo-poo-ed by second born (only 9 months between) who in turn is scorned by third-born etc.

    Is it going to be competition at ALL levels ALL the time? Is it going to be a hectic, hell-bent race EACH DAY to be ‘up to date’? Then each hour? Then each minute?

    Will we stop using stuff (because there won’t be time) for any purpose other than TAKING ABOUT where exactly the leading edge of the tech is RIGHT NOW?

    When the characteristics of the medium is the ONLY message, will it be time to become a hermit?

    Will not having a single clue about ANYTHING become the only Cool, to be fought over, as in “I don’t even know whether my ass is working right, or there is an update to sit on this rock better…”

  3. Excellent post…I suppose along with these “past memories” we can add reading a map…great to witness young folks listeting to a device telling them where to go…and it’s wrong!

  4. Back in the 70s, my dad rigged up a light switch with a long cord to the sony trinatron tv so that he could mute the sound during ads. We called this little invention the “Blab Off”. It was an integral part of my tv experience growing up, long before remotes or mute buttons.

  5. Being 31, I actually think of this subject quite a bit. The twenty somethings I work with think I am about 46. Some of them had never heard of ALF. One guy had never heard of the song “Round by Round” by RATT. Other things to consider also include: pagers, beepers, telephone booths, pay phones, calling someone’s house and having to leave a message and wait for them to come home to receive it, leaded gasoline pumps, service stations, Spud McKenzie (actually a female), crystal clear Pepsi, “New” Coke….I think you get the idea.

    Great article.

  6. Recently, we found an old dial telephone in a relative’s basement and asked our children to show us how it was used. They are 11, 7 and 5 years old. They were absolutely confused and could not understand how someone would/could use such a piece of technology. It was an amazing lesson and relates to what you say. Thank you for the post.

  7. Our teens definitely know what VHS tapes are, because we still have most of the oldest Disney movies on them! They also still play games occasionally on their Gameboys (not the DS). My son has had his since he was in 1st or 2nd grade. He wanted one in Kindergarten, but I said “no” to that. They know what many old shows from my generation are thanks to channels on TV that play them and Netflix, because my husband and I love to put them on the list! It’s actually pretty great.

  8. Ben Affleck is going to be the next Batman? 🙂 Great post!
    ***Bring back The Flintstones! The real ones, not John Goodman!

  9. Something has got to be said about some old classics that are still great today, not just TV/films but toys etc. too) but there are some total shockers. I recently watched an episode of Wonder Woman and was kind of disappointed how it didn’t seem as awesome as it had been in my mind. Ah well!

  10. I like your post. It’s nice. I was born in that era. I was a teen in the 80’s and enjoyed many things like the music, cassettes and even 8 track tapes. I know exactly what you mean.

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