You’ve probably had this experience with one of your children—the experience of trying to explain something that was a part of your childhood, but is completely foreign to theirs. Though we aren’t that far removed from the years when we were young, the pace of technological change has been unparalleled. What was mind-blowing in the 70s, 80s, or even the 90s is practically ancient history today. I recently found myself thinking about some of the experiences I had that my children never will.
Studying the maps in the back of a Bible. During a boring sermon, there was always this escape: You could flip to the back of your Bible and browse the maps. It wasn’t exactly the height of entertainment, but it was least something, and they were at least in color. You could trace your finger along the path of the exodus or along Paul’s missionary journeys. But because kids today tend to use a Bible app, they will never browse the maps at the back of their Bible.
Reading liner notes and lyrics. CDs, cassettes, and (some) records had liner notes. Do you remember them? The liner notes contained the lyrics to the songs, but also messages from the artists—shout-outs to their families, thanks to their fans, the obligatory gratitude to God, and sometimes other cryptic information. As much as I love having access to unlimited amounts of music through digital distribution, I do miss the liner notes and the personal connection they allowed between musicians and fans.
Dialing a phone. When I was a kid, the phone at our family cottage did not only have a rotary dial, but it was also a party line shared by three families in the neighborhood! That would be utterly foreign to my kids. But what’s funny is that even a phone with buttons (not to mention cords) is foreign to them. On the very few occasions they do make a phone call, they inevitably make it from a smartphone where all they have to do is tap an entry in an address book or tell Siri who to dial.
Rewinding a tape. It would cost you an extra $0.50 if you didn’t rewind the VHS tape before returning it to the video store! And your brother or sister would be upset with you if you didn’t rewind the Phil Collins cassette back to song 1 of side 1 before putting it back in the case. My children will never know what it is to rewind a tape. I’m pretty sure it’s better that way.
Hearing a record skip. Sticking to the music theme, how about hearing a record skip? Every time I hear Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” there is one point where I still expect it to skip. Why? Because my family owned the record, and every time I listened to it, it skipped in that exact spot.
Connecting to the Internet. Do you remember connecting to the internet, back in the day when that involved sending a series of text commands to a modem, then listening while it clicked and beeped and screamed its way to a connection with an internet provider? Of course that was in the day when connecting to the internet was a rare luxury, not a constant right. It was in the day when practically every magazine in the world came with an AOL CD stuffed into it.
Writing cursive. Back in the day, we learned to print first, but soon after had to learn cursive. I’ve heard there are some benefits to cursive—some way it benefits the development of your brain or something like that. I kind of think future generations will do just fine without it.
Navigating with a map. I don’t think my children have ever had to unfold a map. I don’t think they’ve ever had to page through a road atlas. And even if they did, I’m pretty sure they’d have no idea how to navigate from point a to point b. Actually, I’m not sure I could even do that anymore. I’m very sure I don’t care to. Let’s hear it for Google Maps!
Browsing Blockbuster on a Friday night. It was a Friday night tradition: Drop by Blockbuster and find something to rent. You’d walk row after row, looking desperately for something you hadn’t seen before and something that didn’t have an R-rating. And because PluggedIn didn’t yet exist, you’d just be hoping that there wasn’t anything terrible that had somehow avoided the proper rating. My kids may scroll Netflix’s endless lists of films, but they’ll never browse the shelves at Blockbuster. (Bonus: Do you remember renting a VCR from the video store?)
Recording a mixtape. There was something about a mixtape that hasn’t quite been captured in putting together a playlist on Spotify. It wasn’t just choosing the music, but also handing the tape to another person. It said, “I made this just for you.” Was there a sweeter gesture for a boy than to hand a girl a specially-prepared mixtape?
Anyway, I suppose there’s no great redeeming value in all of this. Rather, it’s just some old-man reminiscences about the way things used to be…