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.