A couple of years ago while our family was vacationing at Disneyland, we decided to take a lunch break in the shade on the California Adventure side of the park. We ate in the “Back Lots” area where Disney has fun sets and props displayed. Between bites of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Ellie who was at the time, five-years-old, pointed past my head and with the most enthused and curious voice asked, “What is THAT thing?” I turned to whence she pointed to find……a phone booth. To her, this notion was captivating. “You mean people would really get out of their cars to use the phone? People didn’t have a phone in their purse? Are you lying to me, mom? Was there really no such thing as cell phones?” (I decided not to overwhelm her at that moment by telling her we also didn’t have microwaves, x-boxes, DVD players, remotes for the TV, etc.) She was mesmerized and along with my other children, walked over to examine the old relic. They opened and closed the glass doors, picked the phone from its receiver, giggled and squealed as they locked themselves inside the booth. Scott and I laughed and shook our heads. Had our kids really never seen a phone booth? We promised each other that we’d watch Superman as a family as soon as we returned from vacation.
Just last Saturday, we held a Surprise 80th birthday party for Scott’s dad. In the corner of the banquet room, stood a juke box. I’d already explained to Ellie that there would be a fun music machine called a juke box that took quarters and allowed you to pick the song. She responded with, “A what? A juice box?” Needless to say, I came to the party prepared with a Ziploc full of quarters so she and her cousins could try it out – they had a blast. Half way through the night, my 13-year-old noticed his younger cousins and said, “What’s that thing in the corner that Ellie’s playing with?”
It makes sense that this generation, adorned with their cell phones and iPods would have absolutely no concept of why a phone booth or juke box were ever commonplace. But it made me slightly sad and I began thinking about other things from my childhood that would be completely lost to them. I’ve actually been chewing on this concept for a while and here’s what I think. I think that advances in medical technology are awesome. I venture to say that my appendectomy would have been much easier to recover from had laparoscopic surgery been available when I was nine. I’m sure my mom’s gallbladder surgery, which at the time, required a six-inch incision would have been easier as well.
My family uses every single gadget that the entire world uses. In our home, we have two laptops, a desktop, two iPods, an iPad, a Wii, digital cable, and two iPhones. Research is easier than ever and I’m grateful for the plethora of special recipes I find for my special diet. But I text more than I call these days and I keep in touch with many of my friends via Facebook, rather than real-live chats. I use my GPS to get everywhere. Miraculously, Adam can use his iPad to communicate when he can’t think of the word, or when someone can’t understand him. Love that! So what I’m going to say is not meant to be a judgment towards anyone. It’s just what I believe to be true. And it’s this: Technology has made society (including me) less patient, less courageous, less smart, more indulgent, busier, lazier and less responsible. Blasphemous, I know.
I contemplated that the other day when I was using my microwave. Instead of pressing in “six-zero-start”, I simply hit the express button for one minute. Why push three buttons when you can push just one? If that’s not lazy, what is?
In college I delivered subpoenas for a season. I had a book of maps for the Las Vegas area and had to actually use my brain to find the correct coordinates for each address. It was an intellectual exercise to find each place and develop a plan of action for the day. When Scott and I were first married, we mapped out vacation routes with good, old-fashioned foldable maps. Not willing to let this go, the placemats on my table are all maps. Maps of the world, maps of the U.S. I’m teaching my kids how to use a map, and they will know. What if your GPS takes a dive? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to use your brain and a map to get there?
Speaking of getting there. As kids, my brother, sister and I somehow survived the 10-hour trip from Reno, Nevada to Anaheim, California without a DS, iTouch, or mom’s cell phone in our hands. There were no built-in DVD players with movies at the ready. Instead, we played the ABC game – finding every letter of the alphabet on road signs and license plates – the no-blinking game, the who-can-make-who-laugh-first-game. We read books and doodled in notebooks. We played hangman and visited as a family. We thrilled at the possibilities of our upcoming vacation. We told secrets and my brother tormented the crap out of my sister and me. We fought with one another and drove my parents up a wall. But we arrived at our destination not zombie-out, but electrified and alert. Vacations were rare for my family growing up and my siblings and I always begged my dad to ask for a room on the second floor at Motel 6. We’d race up the stairs to see who could be first to put the quarters in the box at the top of the bed to feel the bed shake and vibrate. Remember those things?
Look at my friend Amy’s daughter when she was little. This is how they traveled. A doll in her arms and a book in her hand. Love it.
And then on vacation, we took pictures with a camera that had film. We had to be careful and wait for just the right shot, because film and developing it were expensive. We are so impatient now. We snap our pictures with our digital cameras and see immediately how the picture turned out. If we don’t like it, we take another. Every single one of my kids want to see the shot as soon as I snap it and I lament that they won’t ever have the patience to wait a week after vacation is over and the film has been developed to see how our pictures turned out. Then one-hour-developing came into play and we were in heaven! Remember how exciting it was to pick your photos up from K-mart or the corner drug store and thumb through them? If you were like me, you splurged and ordered double prints. At least then, you could put them in an album and they didn’t stay locked away on your computer, destined to be lost forever if your hard-drive ever takes a dive.
We were not indulged as kids, and not just because we didn’t have loads of money. We weren’t indulged because we had to be patient. Cartoons only showed on Saturday mornings. What a special day that was! Saturday stood apart from the other six, because Super Friends and Looney Tunes and Smurfs were on! When the Christmas season came around, my mom would watch faithfully for the commercials that informed us when Charlie Brown’s Christmas and Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer would be on. She’d mark it on our calendar (which hung on the wall – not stored in our iPhones) and we would plan and make sure that on Wednesday, December 13th, our family would be home by 7 p.m. to watch Rudolph. There were no VCR’s or digital cable, so if you missed it, you missed it. And you had to prioritize and you couldn’t fill your life above capacity if you wanted to see it.
I love my flixster app on my iPhone. It’s so easy to see when and where to watch a movie. But I also miss rummaging through a printed newspaper looking for movie times. I love that I can keep in touch with hundreds of friends on Facebook. Friends that I may have never reconnected with otherwise. I love that I can wish you all a happy birthday, because Facebook tells me when it’s your special day, but I can’t remember the last time I wrote out a personalized birthday card and placed it in the mailbox. I miss hand-written letters – I miss the 4th-grade pen-pal program. I hate that our children aren’t being taught to write in cursive anymore. What about a signature? Will it just be your thumb print in the future? I’m teaching all of my kids to write in cursive. Zac was quite the anomaly in 6th grade. All of his teachers were astonished at his beautiful penmanship. I know, I’m sounding more and more like an old-fart.
I love finding recipes online, but I keep my favorite cookbooks close at hand. I refuse to let them go. After all, these books contain the magic for Waikiki meatballs and homemade vanilla cream pudding – the recipes my mom used to teach me.
I loathe what cell phones and texting have meant to this generation of teenagers and young adults. They are much braver in their electronic conversations but seem incapable of having a real-life conversation much of the time. Recently I was set to interview a really amazing young woman to help me part time with Adam. We had a lovely phone chat and she was scheduled to come meet me and Adam at 4 p.m. two days later. About an hour before her interview, she texted me to let me know the restaurant she had applied for had just called and offered her a job. She wouldn’t be coming after all. I lost some respect for her. She had the courage to call to inquire about the position I had posted, but when it got even slightly uncomfortable, she took the easy way out. There was no courage there at all. The hard conversations don’t have to be hard at all anymore, because when there is bad news or good news, it is so often just shared via text. How is that empowering a courageous future generation of leaders? I’m probably guilty of the same to a certain extent, but I commit here and now to share good and bad news in person when possible and over the phone with a live conversation, if not.
The very technology that was designed to make our lives more simple, has in my opinion, complicated them. America seems more overwhelmed, busy and distracted than ever before. We think we can juggle it all because we have cell phones that allow us to communicate anywhere, any time. We can check our calendars and our friends’ status’ while waiting to board a flight or while waiting in line at the grocery store. Or heaven forbid, when we should be spending time with our families.
I’ve revolted a little. I refuse to let my landline go. And when I call my mom, I call her landline from my landline. It brings me comfort and it brings me peace. When we talk, I can picture her seated at her kitchen counter, talking to me on her kitchen phone. It makes for a more focused conversation and it reminds me of how precious those chats were when I was in college and long-distance calls were expensive. My roommates and I would have to sit down at the end of every billing cycle to determine whose calls were whose and how much we each owed. Now long distance is unlimited, now everything is unlimited. And I think it’s made for a more indulgent and want-it-now society.
Last night I confiscated my kids’ iTouches. I noticed that they get more disrespectful when they have them. I’m sure it’s not like that for every kid, but it’s that way for mine. They bicker more with one another and they are not getting creative with how to use their free time when they can simply rely on technology. I spent a lot of money on those devices but I’m not sure if or when they will get them back. Because when I took them away, Zac grabbed a book, Crew got out his Star Wars toys and Ellie helped me set the table for dinner.
My kids aren’t getting cell phones – at least not yet. I know most junior high kids have them, but I’m digging in my heels. We drop off and pick Zac up from school every day and if I really need to reach him, I can call the school. And if there’s an emergency, the school can call me. If I worked outside of the home, I’m sure he would have had a phone two years ago. I get that. I would need that flexibility. But at home if he needs to use the phone, he can use the one on my kitchen counter. That’s all the privacy any 13-year-old in my home needs for a phone conversation. I laugh at the recollection that a private phone call used to be how far you could stretch your kitchen phone’s cord away from your family. My mom was the envy of all other moms in our small town growing up. My dad worked for the phone company and one day surprised her with a 30-foot cord for her phone. She could stretch that phone down the hall and into every bedroom of our small home. And you couldn’t buy a cord that long from any retailer. Don’t think for a minute she didn’t enjoy that prestige!
I miss riding my bike five miles from home because it was safe. I miss seeing my brother play with his Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys, or just shooting hoops in our drive way. I miss playing Cabbage Patch Kids and Barbies with my sister. I miss the pink sponge curlers my mom put in my hair every Saturday night before church. I miss simple, non-themed birthdays – when birthdays were always held at the home of the birthday girl/boy and games such as pin-the-tail-on-the donkey or musical chairs were played and the cake was a simple 9×13 baked by Mom. I’m guiltier of this than anyone and have thrown more over-the-top-themed, movie-theater, skating-rink, laser-tag, go-cart parties than anyone. So, I’m not judging – but I miss the simplicity. I grieve that much of it is gone, and gone forever I fear.
Maybe I just miss the uncomplicatedness of my idyllic childhood, because being an adult, a parent, and a spouse is hard work. Perhaps the weight of raising a family and belly-aching over what kind of adults my kids will be is a little daunting. At any rate, I don’t have time to think about that right now. I have four unread text messages, 13 Facebook notifications, and an inbox of e-mails to attend to.