At the sound of the beep


Recently, reminiscing with the children about our own childhoods where we walked 5 miles in five foot drifts to school, uphill both ways (naturally), a friend was telling her children about the blizzard of ’78. Her story featured an edge-of-your-seat tale of her father bravely plowing the family’s station wagon through driving snow to ferry his family to safety.

To this breathless recitation her daughter said only “What’s a station wagon?” She had to explain that it was like a mini-van, but shorter and with less seat-belts. My own child asked me the other day while watching a television program, why the character was sliding an envelope into the computer?

“That’s called a floppy disk dear.” Another friend reports that her techie husband has a Christmas ornament that is made to look like a floppy disk. Their young son said most of his friends would think it was a “save” icon.

Voice mail

Further puzzlement came from how the character could hear the telephone’s voice mail as the message was being left by the caller. That one actually seemed futuristic until I explained it was because it wasn’t voice mail stored on a central computer and accessible from anywhere but, rather, a voice recording stored on a tiny tape recorder accessible, in most cases, only by standing over that particular phone and pushing a button.

We won’t even go into what it took to explain “tape recorder.” “It’s like a tape, but your voice sticks to it” probably wasn’t the type of scientific explanation Mr. Wizard would have provided.

Still puzzling out primitive 1990’s era communication, a friend’s granddaughter, showing off the cell phone she received for her birthday, reportedly asked “how old were you when you got your first cell phone grandmom?” “40-something” was probably not the answer she was expecting.


My daughter recently had to make a telephone call to a number that must be the last hold-out in America to not have call waiting. Watching her pull the phone away from her ear and stare at it in puzzlement,

I asked her if the phone was ringing. She said “no, it is making a funny beeping sound.” That is when I realized she was getting a busy signal. A sound she had never heard before.

I was talking about my first “mobile” phone. Remember the ones in a big zippered bag that had a huge battery and you plugged it into the car? I was explaining that this was when you paid up to a $100 a month for maybe 20 minutes of talk time (local only).

One child said “so you couldn’t get on the Internet with your phone?” I said “There was no Internet!” You could see their mouths physically drop and the lines form on their foreheads as they tried to comprehend. No Internet? I might as well have said “That was before they invented oxygen.”

“But how did you watch videos?” “Listen to music?” “Write to people?” “Get answers to stuff?” “BUY stuff?”

Frankly, they were a little bit frightened by the idea of a world without Internet. Frankly, so am I.


Then again, the more things change the more they stay the same. I like when things come back around and the youngin’s have no idea. A friend employed at a local college reports sightings of “Where’s the beef” T-shirts. She asked one student if it was vintage. His reply: “No idea, I just think it’s cool.” Apparently he saw it as an ironic twist on veganism and had little or no knowledge that it was an iconic 1980s advertising campaign for a major hamburger chain.

Browsing the local thrift we came upon an impressive set of bound books. Encyclopedias. Had to explain “it’s like Google, in book form”. A young man waited on me today at the card store. Slap-band bracelets were for sale and I said something like, “What’s next? Pogs?” His response? “Hey! My mom talks about those!” Whippersnapper!

We often think that birthdays show the passage of time and they do — individually. Yet nothing shows the movement of Father Time in our collective conscience quite like ringing in a new year. A newly minted number to learn seems to promise a blank slate. By now we have maybe JUST started writing it properly on checks. (presuming that in 2012 anyone still writes checks anymore).

Pondering a Christmas filled with gifts of technology that fits in the palm of the hand (tablets, e-readers, and iPods, oh my!) I can only hope, imagine and wonder what the next 20 years will bring. In the spirit of this and every successive new year, I can only hope, imagine, and wonder that we will all be here hale and hearty and full of good health to reminisce about the good old days wayyy back in 2012 too.

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