When I was a teacher there was nothing that upset me more than my students using their cell phones in class. One day I blew up about it and a student said, “Relax, Mr. Spo. Don’t act like you didn’t play with your phone when you were in high school.” I was so shocked by this kid’s faulty grasp of history that I launched into an “in my day” speech so fuddy duddy that it embarrassed even me.
“When I was your age I’d never met anyone in all of my life who owned a cell phone,” I said while shaking my cane. “I’d heard rumors about them though. They were said to be as big as a Shaquille O’Neal shoe and cost more each month than a mortgage payment!”
My rant lead to my students asking how people in my day got in touch with each other when they were away from home if there weren’t any cell phones, so I tried to explain about pagers. It wasn’t long before a student interrupted me in disbelief.
STUDENT: “Hold up. All this thing did was light up with a phone number? What good was that?”
ME: “A lot. It told you someone wanted to speak with you.”
STUDENT: “But you had no phone!”
ME: “No, but thanks to my pager I knew I needed to find one.”
STUDENT: “Find a phone?”
ME: “That’s right. A pay phone. So off I’d go, searching, and once I found one I’d dial the number to find out who wanted to speak to me. Actually, I usually had to get change first, so I’d run into a store and beg the clerk to break a dollar into quarters, but once he did I could make the call. Well, that is if someone wasn’t already on the phone and –”
STUDENT: “How long did all of this take?”
ME: “Fifteen minutes. Sometimes more.”
STUDENT: “Please tell me it was some sexy girlie calling you.”
ME: “Actually, it was usually my Mom.”
My students laughed about my pager all year, and rightfully so. It sounded so archaic that I might as well have been talking about blood letting or cigarettes “that relax the nerves.” (Note: My students were pretty hilarious. If you’ve never read about the obscene “My Boo” letter I found in my classroom one day, do yourself a favor and read it now.)
I bring all of this up because it occurred to me today that, if teenagers from 2007 found my youth hopelessly outdated, what would Annie think of it when she was their age in 2025?
Here are a few things that will undoubtedly horrify her:
Not Being Able To Solve An Argument With The Internet
Nowadays you can settle a stupid argument in a flash. “No, Tommy, it actually WAS 1927 when Babe Ruth hit sixty home runs. (swivels laptop around) See?” But back then your best hope to win an argument was by asking another person.
ME: “Dad? What year did Babe Ruth hit all those homers? Tommy says 1928 but I’m pretty sure it was 1927.”
DAD: “Hmmm. That is a good question. Let’s see. I almost want to say it was a little earlier. Maybe ’26?”
ME: “No, it was ’27.”
DAD: “I think it was ’26.”
TOMMY: “It was ’28!”
DAD: “You know who would know? Grandpa. We’ll call him after his nap.”
Basically, you never, ever won an argument back then.
Back then you could only watch what was playing at that exact moment and nothing else. Even lamer, if you didn’t want to miss any of your favorite show you had to ignore phone calls and frantically do your bathroom business during the 90 second commercial breaks.
Nowadays you can download an album in twenty seconds. In my day (here I go with the “in my day” talk again) you had to drive to a record store and search through bins for it. And if it wasn’t a major release? You could spend all day driving from record store to record store searching for one stupid album and still never find it.
While on the subject of music… What will Annie think about not being able to carry around thousands of songs in her back pocket? She won’t be impressed with The Walkman, which gave you the ability to travel around with one crappy tape like “Sports” by Huey Lewis and The News. There was a girl in my class, I remember, who always lugged around a shoe box full of tapes everywhere she went. For her troubles she had access at all times to literally tens of records!!! Oooh!!”
Computers make writing a report easy. Make a mistake? Hit delete and you’re back on track in seconds. I had no such luck in my day. I did all of my high school reports on a typewriter. This meant hen pecking each letter as slowly as possibly so as not to make a mistake, and nervously wiping sweat from my forehead like I was defusing a bomb. And if I did make a mistake? That meant taking out the ink cartridge, putting in the “erase” cartridge, writing over the offending passage, and then putting the original cartridge back in. One mistake would set you back three or four minutes and make your paper look like crap. You could, of course, speed up the process by using Wite-Out, but that made things look even worse! Oh, memories.
Go ahead, Annie. Laugh all you want. The more I think about it, it does all sound pretty ridiculous.
I remember when cell phones first became “accessible” to all. I was 15 and I proudly declared that I was never ever going to have one of those stupid things. Flash forward to 12 years later and here I am typing this comment on my trusty iPhone 4S, that I’d probably die without.
Funny how things turn out.
I can’t go anywhere without my iPhone. I even carry a charger and adapter in my bag!
I imagine in 20 years time you’d just be able to send mind to mind messages. But saying that, in the 90s we all thought we’d be driving flying cars by now!
Also, read that love letter to boo, and CRACKED UP! Seriously?!? Wow.
See, I can’t even count without my iPhone!
It should say flash forward 13 years!
Pager? Who were you, Doctor House? Never had a pager. Mind you, didn’t get a mobile phone until about 10 years ago. And my mobile now is *gasp* just a phone. No photos, no apps, no nothing. Luddites of the world, unite!
When I was a teenager we had one phone. It had a dial, was attached to the wall with a cable and it lived on the stairs landing. You would sit on the stairs to make or take a call and the time it took for my father to start shouting for you to get off it depended on where he was in the house. Good times!
And you actually had to read a map to get somewhere and ten drive around aimlessly trying to find it! Sat Nav is my friend!
I love this post. I don’t feel so alone in feeling old!! It also reminds me of when my husband (then boyfriend) and I bought pagers before he went off to college. We came up with a list of codes so we could “talk” during the day. Of course I had to keep my pager in the glove box of my car because pagers were banned from school. Getting caught with one instantly made you a suspected drug dealer. LOL I can only imagine what kind of technology my kids will have when they become teenagers. I only hope I can keep up!! I often think about all of the things my 95 year old grandmother has seen invented in her lifetime. Honestly, I don’t think any of us will witness that kind of technological evolution.
I just had a discussion with my 16yr old son about this! The art of note folding, and rotory phones!! I can remember the first house on the block to get a CORDLESS home phone…whooo!!!! The great thing about “back in the day” is when you came home from school, you could shut out all the crap that happened that day. Kids today can’t
I lived in a really small, really rural town growing up. I now live in a big city. I can’t wait to blow my kids minds by telling them that we didn’t even have dial up Internet access until I was 15 and that downloading a couple of songs would literally take all night. I’ve used a rotary phone and my parents still keep it in the basement. My town was so small, we didn’t have street numbers or 911 service until I was 8. That shocks people right now.
My friend’s son didn’t recognize a VHS tape the other day. That made me feel ancient. I still have a VCR.
My family just made a similar list when we were explaining the 90s to my nephews. I also loved that era where you couldn’t go on the computer if someone was on the phone. My parents (age 60ish) still need reminding about the internet. They’ll sit around wondering things – the name of a movie, what time a store opens — and I have to butt in with “hey, why don’t we all find out!”
My parents got one of those Zack Morris cell phones in 1993 or so (for emergencies), but pagers? Those were for drug dealers in my neighborhood. Although, my sister and her husband are pediatricians and have pagers for when they’re home on call. It’s bananas, I feel like I’ve stepped into yesteryear when I visit them.
I was lucky enough to have an electric typewriter that had the delete cartridge in the machine right along next to the ink. At least I was able to use the “delete” but really, it still made it look bad. And these days at least we have the white out tape instead of having to use the fluid all the time. Oh yeah, I’m going to have fun with “back in the day” talk. LOL.
I had forgotten all about this, but a couple years ago I had to pull out an old dusty typerwriter in my office to fill in a form (I don’t remember WHYYY) but I VEEERY carefully lined up the paper and started typing away in caps, name address etc., and when I looked at what I typed, I realized I forgot to take off the ALL CAPS to do numbers and instead got &$%@*#$@*%$… LOL oh jeez
When I was a kid we were oh-so-cool walking around town with transistor radios the size of an algebra book perched on our shoulders, antenna extended two feet into the air.
We also fought bitterly at home for phone time (the rotary phone), and when somebody called who REALLY mattered (aka a boy — oh SQUEAL!), it was a challenge to stretch the phone cord around the corner into the other room in order to get the slightest bit of privacy, which, of course, could be interrupted at any moment by a nosey sibling. And, of course, you had to wrap up your call by 9 p.m. or else Mom was going to come and tell you that it was time to hang up because all decent people knew that you didn’t talk on the phone past 9:00. Until you got your own phone which you paid for out of your babysitting money every month, and then you turned the ringer on the phone down real low and kept the phone under your bed so your mom didn’t hear it ring when your friends called at 10:30.
We would rush down to the record store to buy the latest #1 song, on a 45 rpm record, and then we’d go home and play our records on our portable phonographs, huddled in our bedrooms with our friends, dreamily looking at pictures of Davy Jones. And yes, I did weep a figurative tear a few months ago when Dave passed. ‘Tis a sad day indeed when a good one like Davy passes away.
I am, sigh, a dinosaur, a relic who refuses to pay to watch TV (although I will say that we do have a mighty fine flat-screen TV…. don’t worry, Mike, we’re not watching The Brady Bunch on a 1970 model) we have a big-arse antenna on our roof and that’s where our reception comes from. No Tivo, no DVR, yes we are doomed to make bathroom runs during commercials. We are hearty folks. We can bear up under the burden.
A couple of years ago my cell phone battery died, and of course the charlatans arrange things these days so that a particular battery is no longer manufactured, which meant that (sob!) I had to purchase a new phone. I went to the phone store and said, “Do you have a phone that is just a phone? One that just makes phone calls?” The twenty-something clerk looked at me with a mixture of horror and pity. He shook his head and said, “Uh, they don’t make those anymore. But we’ve got a basic model that only includes a camera.” I suspected that he was thinking, “As if anybody would even want that simple-minded excuse for a phone!” Then he said, “How old are you?!!” Poor thing, he probably went home and had nightmares about a woman who only wanted to speak into her phone and not file her tax return on it while locating the nearest Starbucks. I know, I know, I should be tarred and feathered for clinging to the past so tenaciously. I’m a blight on the colorful map of progress.
I did buy a phone that has a camera, which I will never use, because, you know, I have a real camera for that. Don’t worry, my camera is digital. I’m not clinging to my Kodachrome film and Magicube flashbulbs.
Having said all of that, I will admit freely and without trepidation, the fact that I am totally addicted to my laptop. So there you go. I confess to being wildly giddy about the fact that I can sit and type emails to my friends in far-flung places of the world, I can research any topic that comes to mind, and I can cyber-meet fine people like yourself who are charming to read.
I’ve even been known to post a photo or two on Facebook from time to time. I totally agree with Maggie though — things were better “back in the day” when we could come home from school and shut out all the crap that happened that day and not be taunted online.
This was a great post, Mike. Thanks for the walk down Memory Lane! I can imagine how perplexed those kids were to hear about you getting change to use a public telephone! And you probably didn’t even use a sanitizing wipe on the phone receiver! Imagine!
I remember when our family got our first color TV. I win
Nope, I remember that too. I was 7. However I must point out that we did live in the UK, and therefore all these things happened later. My parents didn’t get a VCR, for example, until after I went to university.
Last year, I ran out to IKEA w/o my cell phone. Realizing I needed to touch base with my husband about some evening plans, I told the kids “We’ll use the payphone over there, as soon as I’m done in the ladies room”. When I emerged from the restroom, my kids said – “Mom, bad news. That phone is broken-it just makes a buzzing noise when you pick it up.”
The buzzing noise they heard? It was the dial tone.
Yes, I instantly felt ancient.
I’m with you Laura. Mike, to go as far “back” as a pager. Really? Bonanza on a color TV, now that was living. Got to admit though, I don’t move without my iPhone in my purse, or better yet my pocket. (As I send this from my iPad)! Ain’t life grand?
Gaah, this makes me feel old! No pager here – I used to stretch the cord (cord, what’s a cord?) from the kitchen phone down the stairs to the basement so I could have some privacy, before FINALLY getting a phone in my room at the advanced age of 13. We got our first VCR sometime when I was high school, which at least wasn’t a Betamax. Before that, we just had the big TV with the “clicker” that had only four buttons – power, volume, channel up, and channel down. And we had one of those weird antennae that rotated up on the roof. Took forever for cable TV to even be available in our neighborhood – I was over the moon once we got MTV and HBO. Yeah, my kid is gonna think I’m a dinosaur…
I busted out laughing at the thought of the girl carrying around a shoe box full of tapes. She had her own iTunes in a box. Hilarious.
I’ve already had a few “back in my day” discussions with my kids. Mostly regarding the fact that they do NOT have to be occupied with an electronic gadget while riding in the car. Every time “can we play on your phone? Kindle Fire? Our DS?” To go on a 5 minute trip to the store? No, I do not think so. Back in my day, we read a book or better yet…. looked out the car window. They are not impressed with those options.
Bianca S says:
Loving all these flashbacks. I remember doing a presentation at school when I was 12 using an overhead projector and acetates, onto which I’d printed the pictures I wanted to use. No Powerpoint for anybody then! I got my first mobile phone at 14 – a proper “brick with a chimney” and was never that bothered about having it (still not that bothered about my mobile today; it’s often away from me, or off, or charging, or out of battery). It was something I used chiefly in emergencies and I could easily make £10 credit last more than a year. Try telling that to my classes of 15-year-olds these days! And I’m really not that much older than them; I’m only 26!!
A childhood friend whom I met when we were in 8 just got back in touch with me and it got me thinking all over again of the wonders of modern technology. I was born just a little bit before you and Heather, in 1974, and started to try to remember life before answering machines, microwave ovens, and cable, remote controls, and home computers. When we had to be home to make a phone call and had to be off the phone for the awaited one to come in. When we would never know if we missed that call if someone called and tied up our line while we were waitinnig, and when we had to stay home until that call came; asking someone to call me back on a payphone if I ran out of change; spending $4 or $6 to payphone call a boyfriend; watching what was on TV, at least until TV tuned out for the night until it came back on at 6 or 7 the next morning; no such thing as a quick meal or ‘just heating it up’ in the microwave; being pretty much up the creek if you truly lost touch with someone.
Of course I am still kind of nostalgic for sitting by my stereo system for hours at times, with my trigger-finger ready to instantaneously press ‘record’ on my tape deck so I could have a copy of that great new song! It was much easier when stereos started to carry ‘dubbing’ capability, but it stunk when I waited for hours only to have that song come up the moment I went to pee!
I am also 33 and OMG this post was almost a word for word transcription of the conversation my husband and I had the other night. It all started when my 4 year old twins asked me to download a song they wanted to hear “real quick on your cell phone”. When I told them how lucky they were to be able to have any song they wanted instantly because “back in the day” we didn’t have cell phones, they just stared at me blankly then proceeded to ask “How did you text each other if you didn’t have cell phones?” Again they are only FOUR!! My husband and I just shook our heads at each other.
What is wrong with “Sports”? I played that over and over on my record player!
I would have solved the Babe Ruth question by consulting an encyclopedia. One of a huge number of books that contained all sorts of information. Sure, it would have meant going to a library or my grandmother’s house, but the information was there!
Just be careful and don’t start putting down ‘young people’ because of how much technology has changed, like one speaker and my sister’s graduation this year.
The guy went off and listed all the things ‘us kids’ couldn’t possibly know anything about… it was really rude.
“most kids today don’t even know how to start a car with a KEY!” …. I guess anyone under 25 doesn’t know what a typewriter, a VHS tape, or a roll of film is. It was so rude (especially for a happy graduation speech!).
Its like old people who don’t know how to use a computer – young people have no clue how to survive without a cell phone. Because obviously both of those things are true.
“defusing a bomb” OMG, that is what typing really was like!
If you think you are old, try going to high school pre-pager. And pre caller ID. I had exactly ONE FRIEND who had that new fangled thing called call waiting. I still wonder how we survived those years, dodging stalkers, waiting in line for the phone and just hoping that you met up with your friends at the usual spot!
-twingles, class of ’85.
My students are blown away by the concept of the “busy signal”( which my parents, somehow, still have) and the idea that you would have to wait around for a call. Even better, if someone in your house was expecting a call, no one else could use the phone. My favorite computer activity in 5th grade was printing out banners with my name on them on a dot matrix printer. It took upwards of half an hour.
Oh, and I’m 37.
I was so glad to read this post and the comments, because it doesn’t make me feel so old! I remember when pagers were all the rage and I REALLY wanted one. Of course, according to my mother only drug dealers had them.. which was quite amusing as my father – a computer/copier tech had one for his business. I have to laugh even now when the family gets together to talk about old times and the young kids have all these questions to ask. What do you mean the TV didn’t have a remote, how did you change the channel, Alyssa? You had to turn a dial?! To this day when I take the younger cousins somewhere, I try and point out old payphone booths (usually that have no phones in them!) and say thats how I made a phone call when I was out and about back in the day. To which they giggle at, because I just said “back in the day”. I’m not that old (31!), but leave it up to them to make me feel ancient.
LOL oh man I feel old now but that was awesome. I dread trying to explain what it was like “in my day” to my 13 month old son one day. Even people ten years younger, that I’ve worked with just stare at me in bewilderment with my tales of how it used to be. lol. >.<
Amy Stone says:
Hilarious…..and TOTALLY relate able! I always show my kids MY original ipod….the Walkman! They just shake their heads….
I owned Sports, and I didn’t have a Walkman, so I remember actually walking down the street with it playing on my giant boombox one day. That makes me laugh to think about now!