Earlier this week, I was having dinner with a few friends and we were talking about the differences between our children’s experiences and our own from childhood. I’ll apologize to my daughter as well as to the sons and daughters of those friends, but that’s what parents do. Our life was harder and in many ways the world was a more difficult place in which to live. In other ways, life was simpler, and it moved at a slower, more manageable pace, but we only focus on one side of the coin at a time. That’s because we’re getting old, but you knew that.
We were going through a list of the things that our children have never seen or the things that were miracle inventions to us that they have never know life without. Since I am a little older than my friends, my daughter is a little older than their children and she was on just the other side of the line in some cases. She does remember life before Internet access was a household staple, but we had CompuServe and AOL Instant Message (AIM) and IRC Chat. Faith is old enough to remember TV before cable, but we didn’t let her watch much TV prior to when cable brought us The Disney Channel. Saturday morning cartoons were about all that she might have seen.
That’s actually how we old folks got started on our conversation. One of my friends mentioned that his kids were in bed on Saturday morning watching cartoons via Netflix on their iPads. We all remembered being on the living room floor with a bowl of cereal and we thought bed + iPad + Netflix was just wrong.
I shared a story about when my daughter was able to go back in time with respect to TVs. We were on a vacation (yes, that vacation) and we drove around Washington State. We toured Grand Coulee Dam, and from there we headed west via the North Cascades Highway with a side trip to Mt Baker. From Coulee City, we drove to Winthrop, WA, as a staging area so we could begin our trip through the North Cascades early.
Winthrop is a western themed tourist town, but we were up for that. We stayed in a saloon-styled hotel that had a VHS Tape lending library in the lobby. Faith thought that was nice, but I’m not sure she appreciated the reason at first. Winthrop, located on the east side of the Cascades with not much else around it, didn’t have cable. Winthrop had the 3 broadcast networks and PBS, just like we had in Pittsburgh when I was a child. Those broadcast signals were delivered via repeater transmitters, over the Cascades.
Once in our room, Faith scurried to find the right bed (best view of TV) and, the, remote – Faith had control of the remote throughout that trip. Interestingly, there was no remote. No remote? How does that work? I introduced Faith to “The Dial” and the list of those 4 channels. As in every other town across America, they weren’t 1,2,3 & 4. No, they were 2, 8, 11 and 53 and 53 required setting the first dial at “U” and then dialing in the spot between 52.5 & 53.7 that had the least “snow” by using the second, smaller dial.
After we laughed about her experience, one of my dinner companions admitted to not remembering life before remotes. He looked at me and one other guy and said: “you guys actually remember life without a remote?” At that point, my friend and I both said: “I was the remote. My dad just told me to change the channel.”
Not only were we the remotes, but we were intelligent remotes. My dad would say “put the ballgame on” and I spun the dial to KDKA which was channel 2. I was an early incarnation of Siri (and I think I worked better) “Siri, what channel is the ballgame on?”
Actually, Siri handled that better than I expected.
We weren’t just the TV remote, we were errand boys. From the point that we could be trusted to carry a few dollars, my brother and I were sent to Jule’s Market for everything from a pound of Chipped Ham to a pack of cigarettes. Yes, this was the early 60’s; kids could buy cigarettes for their parents. The worst errand was to get pop (soda for my New England followers) because that required carrying bottles both ways. Six empty bottles to the store and six full ones home. Early in my errand running days, I had a single-speed bike with a basket. That worked fine for trips to the store. After I destroyed that bike (see earlier post) I ultimately ended up with a 3-speed English Racer with hand brakes, gears and no room for a basket. I learned to carry a bag or a 6-pack of pop in one hand while steering, shifting and braking with the other.
Yeah, kids today have it way easy. Then again, their kids will be able to tap their phones and have Amazon fly them a 6-pack. Time marches on.