As crazy as all of that sounded (exaggeration aside), I’m pretty sure the things I grew up doing as a Gen-Xer would sound equally ridiculous to my own children. Yes, I imagine these are the yarns I will spin as my kids grow up and they have kids of their own.
“Well, youngins, you think you’ve got it tough with your Facebook and your Google and your iParaphernalia? Why, in my day, we had to …”
1. Work a car with our own two hands. Sure, people in the old old days didn’t have automatic transitions, or steering for that matter, but do you know what my generation had to do? We had to pull up the locks with our fingers!!! And that’s not all. If you wanted a breeze or to let out an odor or some cigarette smoke (oh, everyone smoked in my day, even the kids), you had to turn a crank around and around and around to simply open the window a crack. And don’t get me started on positioning the seat!
Also, there was no guarantee you would make it out alive as seat belts were merely suggested and you were allowed to sleep along the ledge of the back windshield or sit in the front middle seat by the time you were talking. Not that you had a proper car seat leading up to that point anyway. No, the only thing between you and a windshield was your mom’s outstretched arm. Thanks mom.
2. Turn the channel. Oh, kids, you think rolling down the window seems exhausting? Try lumbering over to the television. EVERY TIME you want to change the channel. I kid you not, the channels were located on the set…and there were only 13 of them! And only like four of them had anything worth watching!
And sometimes you had to walk to the TV across a shag carpet that shocked you as you shuffled! That’s right, an actual electric shock!
And you HAD to watch all the commercials!
And if the show you were watching didn’t get good reception, you may have to adjust the bunny ears or just stand there and hold them for the duration of the show, because the TV inevitably worked better when you were touching (or near) the antenna, to ensure you never got to sit back down.
And if you did eventually get cable and a remote, it probably had a wire connected to the TV that everyone tripped on as they entered the room. And it only had like two buttons (up and down) so you had to go through each channel to get to the one you wanted, orrrrr your remote had a turn dial that rotated, kind of like a rotary phone except it didn’t rotate back at you. What do you mean, what’s a rotary phone? Sheesh, forget it. Why don’t you just go watch the Disney XD on your iPhone or something?
3. Put a needle on the record. Sooooo, they used to have these big round disc-like things called ‘records’. Maybe you’ve seen one in a YouTube video where someone is DJ’ing. They were like super-sized CDs. I’m sorry, you don’t know what that is? Umm DVDs? Sure, we can say Blu-rays if it makes you happy. Anyhoo, you had an arm with a needle that had to be placed on the record to play a song, but you had to be super careful when you put it on because the slightest pressure could scratch the whole thing. You know, like the way you have to use your Sonicare toothbrush gently and let it do all the work?
Now, if you were really adept at record playing, you could find the right groove for any song you wanted to hear. Oh, and you know how your speakers are the size of a Q-tip? Mine were the size of furniture. In fact, they took up most of my room. Actually, one speaker doubled as my bedside table and the other speaker doubled…as my bed.
4. Answer the phone. We had to actually answer the phone because we had no idea who the heck was calling us—there were no special rings or caller IDs or screens that pop up on your TV or announce the caller. It was horrible. Imagine always having to pick up the phone and never knowing who would be lurking on the other line. Maybe it was someone for your mom or a video store reminding you that your movies were overdue. You were always hoping it was one of your BFFs—or better yet, your crush, who could’ve looked up your number in the Yellow Pages (we’ll get to that).
Plus, when you did answer you were stuck within a six-foot radius of the phone’s location. No, it wasn’t because you got bad reception—the phone was stuck to the wall and you were stuck to the phone by a coiled cord that no matter how far you stretched it, you couldn’t seem to reach the place you wanted to be. I know, it’s the stuff of nightmares. Wait until I tell you about the advent of the answering machine and those tiny cassette tapes!
5. Handle a 35 mm camera. Listen up kiddos, we didn’t have the luxury of just picking up our phone and snapping a shot to then post to Instagram or Facebook when we wanted to capture a moment and share it with the world. No, it took time and thought—and precision. First, we had to load our cameras by pulling negative film from a roll and getting the teeth to take hold.
No, they weren’t real teeth, Einstein. Of course that’s assuming we had the right speed of film.
No, the film didn’t actually move, sheesh.
Can I go on?
We were very specific about the pictures we would take because frankly, we had a finite amount, usually like 18 or 24. Well, 36 if you were really rich. Plus, you had to simply cross your fingers that you looked good because you may not get to see your pic for a month—or ever!
Because they had to be developed by creepy people who worked in little free-standing booths in parking lots and played Dungeons and Dragons. Of course sometimes they got exposed and basically you could then kiss your memories of your Disney vacation or your birthday goodbye.
6. Use a map. Maps were how we pretty much got anywhere far or got lost trying to get there. You see, we didn’t have those fancy-shmancy GPS systems that log traffic, offer alternate routes, and have a lovely chipper voice command. No, we had massive papers that seemed to keep unfolding and unfolding and unfolding with tons of tiny lines on them that remind me of the backs of my once sexy legs. We had to use our fingers to plot a course that would get us to our destination and you could lose your place in the blink of an eye, which is why the voice of the person giving directions wasn’t lovely or chipper at all. It was the snappy, yelly, frustrated voice of one of your parents who would have no problem turning around and slapping you halfway through the trip if you interrupted them, gave your opinion, or sang along with your Sony Walkman with too much fervor.
Oh, and there was no alert you when you went off-course. That’s what one-toothed gas attendants in the middle of nowhere were for!
7. Look things up manually. See, my adorable little imps, we didn’t have a massive database like the Internet at our fingertips. No, we read things that were made from trees. They called those things ‘books’ and there was a whole section of them that were considered references. They included books like dictionaries, encyclopedias and thesauruses … thesauri? Damn it, I’ll have to Google the plural of thesaurus later, but you get the point.
We found these reference sections in places called ‘libraries’ where a man named Dewey Decimal was king.
There, we didn’t buy books, we simply shared them with other people and got their book cooties. We even got information for reports and school papers from those reference books I mentioned earlier and none of them started with “wiki”. In fact, I once got an encyclopedia set for a birthday present. (Yeah, we didn’t get fun things back then like Xboxes because knowledge was expensive.)
Nana (my mom) bought it in two installments, the first half and then the second half of the alphabet. But we couldn’t afford the second half, because like I said, encyclopedias were like a million dollars and do you know what happened? In sixth grade, I had to do a report on Switzerland and I failed because I only had A through M. And no one wanted to drive me to the library because it was so annoying to put the key in the door or manually open the locks.
Damn you, Jane Lewis, for getting Madagascar!
So, children: Don’t come crying to me when you forget to charge your iPad or a lightning storm affects the satellite TV because now you see how tough my generation had it growing up.