Recently I rambled on – in that Boomer way I have – about how there used to be just one place in the house to use the telephone. On River Road our only phone occupied a stationary spot in the living room on a small table next to the console TV.
At least on Ford Road we could sit on a couch in the den for phone conversations. In my first apartment I reached out to the world from a telephone mounted on the kitchen wall.
The patient listener to my telephone soliloquy was a Millennial, Smartphone in hand, who had to sit through my reminiscences of yesteryear telephone use. I recalled the welcome innovation of my first hand-held phone, whose receiver I could take into the bathroom for any snow day notification calls – which invariably came while I was in the shower.
Although my millennial friend agreed that Caller ID helps screen unwanted calls, she probably never used Directory Assistance or made a call from a phone booth in some public place. She stores the numbers she needs right in her phone, not in a paper address book like mine, and probably pushes one number to call me rather than dialing all ten digits as I do when I call her.
But she offered the best example of outdated telephone customs, waxing nostalgic about the good, old days when we could slam down a phone receiver in disgust. I have to agree. Clicking off on my handset seems paltry, and she finds pressing a red dot to terminate a nuisance call downright unsatisfying.
Television technology has morphed so dramatically as to make my 40-inch flat screen seem already obsolete. At home our TV was centrally located in the living room, necessitating a mad dash from a kitchen sink full of dishes into the other room whenever we heard “important music” on As the World Turns or Love of Life. Back then we had to actually walk to the TV and turn a dial to adjust the sound or change to the other station.
Years ago when I put a small TV in my bedroom, having two televisions for one person seemed decadently indulgent. During my college years, there were no televisions in our dorm rooms; everyone in our multi-story residence hall shared one TV located in the first-floor lounge!
To be sure, these changes have advanced convenience and connectivity. Instant communication with Ingrid in Germany or my sister in Tennessee is no longer a luxury, but a way of life. And I enjoy watching more stations than just Channel 2 and 7.
Other customs, however, have imperceptibly slipped from common use, routines whose absence has influenced life in unpredicted ways.
In the two years I have been writing this column, I have not checked an actual dictionary for the spelling, meaning, or synonym of any word – not even once. It is much easier to Google that information.
I occasionally translate letters into English and German for a few friends. The online LEO dictionary is vastly superior to any traditional foreign language dictionary I have ever used – and is a mere click away.
Jiminy Cricket no longer sings E-N-C-Y-C-L-O-P-E-D-I-A as he did during our Mickey Mouse days, when we gathered information for reports and projects at the public library. Librarians had to work periodic purchases of several encyclopedia sets into their annual budgets until information via the internet allowed them to scale back their orders.
I do love the convenient availability of it all. Unfortunately, it seems that in spite of all the facts at our fingertips, we have become somehow less literate with smaller vocabularies and greater dependence on pseudo-information.
I am not sure schoolkids sharpen pencils anymore, what with the variety of mechanical pencils and roller pens in rainbow colors available nowadays. When I was in school, yellow Ticonderoga pencils – along with the occasional ballpoint pen – were standard writing tools; and every classroom featured a pencil sharpener attached to the wall or window sill. Of course, at home we immediately recognized my dad’s pencils: he sharpened them with his pen knife.
But do fancy, modern writing implements actually serve a purpose? Who really writes anymore? Oh, it is lovely to see vacation pictures from remote locations posted on Facebook. But I cannot remember the last time I found in my mailbox a postcard personalized with even a cursory “Having a wonderful time! Wish you were here!” And I have yet to receive acknowledgement, let alone thanks, for the gifts I sent to a couple of high school graduates in June.
With a large of array of tablets and in-car entertainment available, I am not sure how much kids look out car windows anymore. Before long, even drivers will have no need to glance through the windshield.
When we were kids, regardless of destination, the passing scene was our entertainment. Sometimes we counted white houses, sometimes we squabbled with each other, but mostly we just observed the gently undulating landscape of Champaign County from the backseat of our yellow Oldsmobile.
Today I have been writing get-well notes with a green gel pen and from my window watched a deer bound across the field behind my house – while using my remote to change the channel of the TV on the other side of the room. I guess I have the best of both worlds…