Once, the Newest and the Latest


Nowadays it seems there are more new products available each year than ever before in my life. In fact, quite often I feel overwhelmed by cutting edge “stuff,” much of which I am not sure I understand or even need. I am often lost in a fog, with Hulu and Tesla and Alexa swirling around me.

My perception is that “back in the day” the newest and the latest entered my mainstream at a slower pace. If I did not see it in the Sears & Roebuck catalog, it probably did not exist.

One big arrival in my young life was the chest freezer installed in the old milk house. It provided lots of frosty space compared to the tiny section in our refrigerator, a compartment with room enough for a metal tray of ice cubes and maybe a box of ice cream. I would estimate we acquired this amazing appliance – knowing my father, I am pretty sure it was a used one – sometime in the mid-1950s. That summer Mother filled it with waxy boxes of cherries we picked from the tree in our yard during a once-in-a-lifetime bumper crop. We ate cherry pie and cherry cobbler during every season for several years to come.

I became aware of another example of cultural advancement on my first day of college – in the form of a can of pop. We rarely drank soft drinks at home, being more of a Kool-Aid kind of family. Occasionally Mother brought home six bottles of Royal Crown Cola in a cardboard carrier, eventually returning the bottles to collect the two-cent deposit on each. On this day in 1966, however, I saw cans of Coca Cola with pop tops sold from a machine in the hallway near my ground-floor dorm room.

Although not a new product as such, I witnessed another sign of continuing progress during my college years. In the mid-60s, at least at Otterbein, most students were young people between the ages of 18 and 22. I knew a couple of kids who had transferred from other colleges, but switching schools or taking a semester off was just beginning to be a “thing.” It was, then, quite exceptional when we noticed a small group of ladies, mostly wives of our professors, taking courses with us. It was a novel concept at the time, these middle-aged women embarking on college degrees so late in life!

I noticed yet another new product on campus when I watched a friend place contact lenses – the hard kind – over her eyeballs. It was all very progressive to me.

Little did I know that back at home my one teenaged sister fainted at the sight of my other teenaged sister inserting her own new set of contacts!

In the mid-70s my sister and her husband rented a house in Springfield that included a microwave oven on the kitchen counter. Its abbreviated cooking times amazed me, although high prices prevented my purchase of such an appliance for several years. I do remember my sister’s baby son being conditioned to know that the beep from the microwave signaled the arrival of his bottle.

My lack of understanding of most things computer-related caused me to nervously avoid the instruments of technology edging their way into our classrooms. I was intimidated by several early teacher in-service programs and a couple of night courses in which instructors insisted we learn programming, when what we actually needed were word processing skills. Eventually the powers that be plunked a computer on my desk, and I gradually learned to appreciate the online gradebook and e-mail.

It was a student, however, who first brought e-mail to my attention in those pre-computer days. During the 26 years of our German exchange program, communication with our partner school was slow at best. Phone calls were expensive and had to be dialed by an overseas operator. An airmail letter required several days for delivery and a return response, and surface mail spent weeks on a boat.

During a meeting of my student travelers in 1999 when some question arose, I promised to contact Ingrid as soon as possible. The next morning, one of those students, Jodi Leonard Hunter, came to my room with the answer to that question. Doubtful but astonished, I questioned Jodi as to the source of her information. E-mail, she replied. The rest became technological history.

A few years before my retirement in 2010, for the first time I saw photographs on a cellphone. It all seemed quite advanced as a colleague clicked through 32 pictures of her new dog. Fascinating though it was, I still do not text, have never snapped a photo with a phone, and depend on my landline for all my telephone needs.

Perhaps the number of innovative products available today is no higher that in the past. Perhaps as I age there are fewer I understand. I must admit the idea of a robotic vacuum cleaner that automatically empties itself and cleans rooms by voice command is appealing, and I am mildly interested in the smart oven that recognizes fifty foods and can supply me with a live video of my breakfast casserole baking.

Mark my words, however. Before long, the current smart appliances, driverless cars, and streaming anything will be every bit as quaint and outdated as the pop cans and e-mails of my past.

By Shirley Scott

Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.

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