As I was watching “Frontline” the other evening, as it revealed just how “wired” our children are, with their iphones, blackberries, and laptops, busy multitasking and staying in touch with every other individual on the planet at all times, I thought about my childhood. I grew up in the fifties, when life was a lot simpler, and most people went through their lives doing things sequentially. Things were uncomplicated and we led linear lives. Connections between people were intermittent, not constant.
For instance, if you felt a sudden urge to talk to somebody, you had three options: You could walk into the room where that person was and have a conversation. You could call that person on the phone. Or you could go on foot or in a car to where that person was located, and then start talking. If that person was not immediately accessible, you would just have to write a letter.
Modern conveniences? A matter of definition. I lived in a normal to small house, and my Mother had all the modern conveniences. That meant that she had to wash dishes herself (or make her daughters do it) after every meal. She had to heat up leftovers IN THE OVEN, for Pete’s sake, and that meant that we had to wait at least FIFTEEN MINUTES for them to get hot so that we could eat them! We did not have anything resembling a Swiffer or Dyson, and so dusting and vacuuming took awhile. We had a little triangular thing in the corner of the sink to put peelings and things in. We then had to take out the GARBAGE every night, because if we didn’t, the kitchen would get stinky.
My Mother was very busy. She had to run a lot of errands. You see, back in the old days, people got food at one store, clothing at another store, medicine at yet another store. I remember at the start of every school year, we would drive from our town in northern West Virginia to PITTSBURGH, where there were really nice department stores, to get my school clothes. In our small town, there weren’t a lot of clothing stores, and not a lot of selection. And my Mother was a big believer in the axiom that if you bought your clothes in town, you would “See yourself coming and going.” That was a BAD THING. And by the way, back in the day, we paid RETAIL prices for everything.
And let’s talk about school. I had to wear A DRESS every day. As a child in winter, I was allowed to wear pants under my dress on the way to school and back, but DURING SCHOOL HOURS, I had to have the bare legs. What a pain it was. Go in the homeroom. Go in the cloakroom (a term no longer in use, I am sure). Take off coat, hat, mittens, and boots. Take off pants. Hang everything up. Take shoes out of grocery bag and put them on. Repeat process at the end of the day. Boys just got to come in, take off their outerwear and get on with things. Plus, those bare legs we girls had were chilly.
In high school, we still wore dresses. Back then, pantyhose were on the verge of invention, and so we had to wear OLD FASHIONED STOCKINGS. How did we hold them up? WITH GIRDLES. Imagine this. I and most of my friends were built like twigs in those days, but we still writhed our way into girdles five days a week. And then we had to TAKE ALL OF IT OFF in order to put on our GYM CLOTHES for Phys. Ed., and then struggle back into it all.
Back in those days, most families had one car. Some had two. Teenagers had none. I know—HOW ON EARTH DID KIDS GET TO SCHOOL BACK THEN? Our Moms took us. We had carpools. And on weekends, we all asked for a car, and drove WHAT OUR PARENTS DROVE. No cute convertibles for teens back then. We drove station wagons, our fathers’ sedans, or nothing!
In the fifties, when kids had free time, we had a number of options: books, “American Bandstand,” homework, and talking on the phone with friends. Homework involved reading assignments and GOING TO THE LIBRARY. Research involved little index cards and bibliographies. Footnotes had to be written in a particular format. I know! How archaic! And while doing our homework, we could play records or listen to the radio, but TV was too distracting!
I grew up playing games on boards or with cards. I spent a lot of time by myself, thinking. If I wanted to get away from it all, I just walked out the door. I wonder if my life those many years ago was better or worse than the lives of the plugged in generation. I admit that I like being able to connect with others via technology. I like living in the fast lane. But I know what solitude is like.
I guess we never stop evolving. Societies change, people grow and develop, and technology just keeps insinuating itself into our lives. They say that soon, virtual worlds will exist right alongside reality, and we may lead lives in multiple universes. Micro chips will allow us to read one another’s minds. We will be able to work with people from other countries without leaving our laptops. Communication will be ubiquitous. But here is the thing:
Who will walk all the dogs?