Generation Gap

June 24, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

I was at a concert this past Saturday evening, and a little thing got me thinking about how much culture has changed since I was a kid. Change happens so slowly that it's almost imperceptible to those who are living through it. But when you examine a block of time - say, the last 30 years - it becomes apparent how different things are from what they were.

The incident in question on Saturday was a common enough sight at concerts: people raising their arms above their heads with lights flickering in their hands. However, where those lights used to be caused by a cigarette lighter, they are now generated by the illuminated displays of picture cell phones as fans take impromptu snapshots of the performer. And most of the people taking those photos weren't teenagers, but men and women who were teenagers 30 years ago. And there wasn't a lighter in sight.

Take a stroll down memory lane... Recite along with me: When I was a child...

Watching television meant sitting down in the living room with the parents and gazing at the huge 27" display which could pull in all three networks (ABC, NBC, CBS), a PBS station, and even a UHF channel or three. Cable meant a clearer signal for those UHF stations, no ghosting on channel 12, and an all-movie station called "HBO." If you didn't want to watch what Mom and Dad were watching, there was always the 12" black-and-white TV in their bedroom. Reading was probably a better alternative. Contrary to what many people will tell you, television wasn't that great in the '70s, either.

Telephones were blocky things with rotary dials that clicked when you spun them around. If you wanted to wander while talking, you needed a long cord. A big step towards adolescence was getting your own extension so you could talk without being overheard by your parents (unless they were listening on the downstairs line - and teenage paranoia indicated that was always the case). A bigger step was getting your own phone number with its associated listing in the telephone book. There was only one telephone book, just like there was only one telephone company.

"Recording" something meant using a tape recorder. I made audio tapes of many of my favorite TV shows by shoving a "condenser mic" up against the television speaker. A "record" meant an LP (or 33). A "single" was a 45. (78s were a little before my time, but I still knew about them, and some record players still had settings to play them.) There were also 8-tracks and cassette tapes. I had plenty of records and cassettes, but was never into 8-tracks. They always seemed a little bulky. Home movies were shot on 8 mm, not video, and watching them was usually reserved for special occasions because it meant lugging the projector out and setting up a screen.

High school seniors could take the bus to school without being laughed at. Oral sex was not an alternative to the "real thing." 13-year olds gazed in awe at the jocks who were supposedly "getting some" (although, come to think of it, it wasn't always clear who was providing it). And the term "nerd" was an insult, not a descriptive term embraced by the target. I can matter-of-factly say now that I was a nerd; back then, it wouldn't have been a flattering admission.

That was then, this is now. There are front-screen projector TVs with 100" (or more) measurements and killer multiple speaker sound systems. Televisions are in every room of the house and even in the SUV or mini-van. Video games and computers offer alternative entertainment. Cell phones aren't much bigger than watches - even some grade-schoolers have them. High definition DVD recorders are on the way, and high def DVRs are already here. It's possible to a movie or TV show any time, any place, as often as you want. Cell phones take video. Sex is demystified in schools, although the jocks are still getting it. And nerds are standing up and admitting who and what they are.

I don't know why people my age become so nostalgic reminiscing about the '70s. All things considered, they were pretty crappy. I'd much rather be a kid today. Or, better yet, in another 30 years.