This week our resident hound asked us to recall life before technology touched so much of it. Since I’m old enough to remember rotary phones, 33 rpm records, and manual typewriters, I can definitely remember life before smart phones. I remember having to locate a pay phone in order to call someone when I wasn’t home. I even remember having to call people several times, because voicemail and answering machines hadn’t made their appearance in most homes.
My father used to tell us how easy our lives were compared to his childhood in the 1930s. I guess that’s true. We had a TV so we could see our favorite shows. We had transistor radios, so we could listen to our favorite music almost anywhere we wanted. And when I was five, we got a private phone line so we didn’t have to wait for other people to finish using the phone when we wanted to call someone.
Overseas phone calls got more convenient when mom could call directly to her sister’s home rather than go through both an American and a Japanese operator. Still, those calls were expensive, and Mom would save up all year long for a ten-minute conversation with her mother on New Year’s Day. By contrast, this past New Year’s, Mom connected with her sisters via LINE, which is similar to Skype, but more popular in Japan. It didn’t cost her a dime, and they chatted for almost half an hour. She could see them gathered at one of their homes, along with their husbands, their children, and grandchildren.
When I went to college, my uncle’s graduation gift to me was a Smith Corona portable electric typewriter, which he shipped from the PX at the USArmy base in Okinawa. I remember receiving the heavy package at my dorm room and getting excited about being able to type my papers in the comfort of my own room – using sheets of erasable paper, or regular paper and lots of white-out. It sure beat handwriting things, or paying someone else to type them. I even made money typing papers for other people!
When I neared the end of my graduate studies, I started work on my thesis. My brother-in-law, who ran an advertising business, suggested that I hire his secretary to type my thesis on her computer at work so that corrections made by my advisor would not result in my having to re-type the entire paper. Since I made the one-hour trip to Kalamazoo several times, and since each trip resulted in a major revision, it was money well spent! But there was one thing that powerful (for those times) computer couldn’t do. My thesis included several musical examples. These had to be photocopied, cut out, and actually glued on to blank spaces the secretary left on the document. Then I would take that page and photocopy it, hoping the cut edges didn’t show. Today’s cut-and-paste and cropping would have come in SO handy back then!
Later on, as computers made their way into schools, my department invested in an Apple computer, and a few of us attended training classes to learn how to use them. We learned how to create an inventory of our music and instruments, write and keep track of correspondence with parents and administrators, and even play fun games. We grumbled about having to enter all the data, but once it was there we really appreciated having the information right there – as long as someone remembered to update it when necessary. I often think about the old card catalogs in the libraries and how I used to look things up to find my resources. Some poor soul had to enter all that stuff into the online catalogs I use today!
We got our first home computer in 1988. Since then I’ve become more and more “connected” through my various computer upgrades, my iPad, my iPhone, and most recently my Apple Watch. My children often scold me for spending so much time on my devices, so I make every attempt to put them all away (except my watch) when they visit. One daughter told me it was embarrassing that I’m always the first to like or comment on someone something else posts on social media. So now I try to wait a respectable amount of time before responding—unless it’s something to do with the grandkids!
Do I remember the “good old days” before we had instant access to information? Yes. Do I miss them? A little, I suppose. I sure wouldn’t mind not waking up to so much bad news on the news feeds every day. But would I want to return? No way. There’s too much good stuff going on in my life right now that I wouldn’t give it up for anything.