EDITOR’S NOTE: We chose this topic before Steve Jobs died. I think that was kind of ironic, don’t you?
I was a pretty young kid when my stepdad showed me something pretty cool. It was a portable telephone.
To help you see this thing in your mind, it was tan, about the size of a shoe box, and had an antenna the length of a car. And on a clear day, you could maybe walk as far as the next-door neighbor’s house until you could no longer hear through the static. We rarely used it. It was novelty; kind of like the as-seen-on-TV sandwich maker that my parents still have in the storage closet downstairs.
Eventually, we purchased a camcorder, which my mom could never hold steady. Watching those old home videos now would throw any epileptic into a seizure. And then we bought a bag phone. Remember those? I think it cost about $150 per minute, but we had it on car rides to Florida, in case of emergency. Like the portable phone, it was kind of a novelty item: “Hey, Grandma! I’m calling you from Florida…on a phone … in a bag!”
I remember when my dad bought his first VCR. It was neat-o and probably cost around $400. I remember him telling me not to tell my grandparents that he bought it. When they visited, I couldn’t contain my excitement. First thing out of my mouth? “Come see what Dad bought!” We would rent movies at a little corner store in South St. Louis called (I kid you not) Home Box Office. I don’t think it was any relation to the HBO we know so well now.
Do you remember albums? The last one I received as a birthday gift was Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet. And I’ll never forget the day my mom came home with Thriller! How about cassette tapes? And CDs before you had CD burners! I would spend hours crafting those perfect mix tapes to express my love.
At some point in the ’80s, I landed my first-generation Nintendo and couldn’t be beaten at Super Mario Brothers, Contra, or Kung Fu. Does anyone remember the Friday the 13th game? Never owned it, but I would rent it from time to time. It was kind of scary — Jason jumping at you from the left side of the screen.
That crazy Jason.
This all seems kind of funny now; but back in the 1980s and 1990s, such things were really cool. Or, as I said way too often back then, “Awesome!”
In 1995, my high school English teacher, Dr. Green, told me to try out something new and awesome on his computer. He called it the World Wide Web. He told me to type something into the box (we now call that box a browser) and see what happens. I typed in the word “baseball.” Exactly eleven links popped up, all from the United Kingdom. I tried to “click” on the link, but nothing ever loaded. This World Wide Web is a waste! Where’s my Oregon Trail?
(Note: Later that summer, before I left for college, Dr. Green sold me his daughters’ Apple IIe for $200. I think he got the better deal.)
In the fall of that year, in college, the university signed me up for my first electronic mail account (we now call that email). Electronic mail did, however, allow me to communicate with my high school friends who had left for other colleges. But when it came to communicating with the family back home, I did that crazy thing called writing a letter and sending it in an envelope with a 29-cent stamp.
We were also introduced to chat rooms. Let’s just say that was interesting.
All this to say…I was on the cutting-edge of technology for a long time. Until I graduated from college. At that point, if I really wanted it, I’d have to pay for it. So, I just didn’t buy anything like that anymore.
It wasn’t until I was married in 2000 that I had my first cellular telephone. We were cornered by the salesman at Sam’s Club and bought a couple’s plan. I also broke down and bought a Nintendo 64 just so I could play Golden Eye once or twice a year.
In 2004, I did something totally irrational. When I left my newspaper job, I left the cell phone that they’d been paying for and didn’t own one again until 2011 — yes, folks, I went without a cell phone for seven years. It was very freeing to actually drive and listen to the radio. Or pray. Or think. And it was nice to go to the store and not get a dozen phone calls telling me not to forget this or that. I only very recently bought a very cheap cell phone because I drive 70 miles round trip. My wife, of course, has always carried a cell phone (I keep finding the old ones in various boxes, junk drawers, etc.) and now she has an iPhone.
I will admit: I am slowly-but-surely coming around and jumping “back” into the tech game. Below are some examples:
- I do enjoy having my wife’s hand-me-down iPod Touch. It allows me listen to podcasts as I drive to and from work.
- I can spend $7.99 per month and watch all the crappy, B-grade movies and TV reruns I want on Netflix.
- We just bought our first flat screen TV, so I could at least carry this one in from the car by myself.
- We recently bought our FIRST (yes, our first) laptop.
- I’ve had a Facebook account for several years, but now I tweet on Twitter (sometimes)
- I hate texting, but I now have the opportunity to do it. I’ve texted about 20 times in my life, 17 of those times were yesterday. Rin was at an appointment and giving me play-by-play. Of course, by the time I could answer one of her texts, I’d have a half dozen more from her in my inbox. I just gave up.
- Since we live so far away from family, we’ve now taken to Skype.
- Rin uses her iPhone to shoot and email me photos of the kids throughout the day. That’s always fun.
- I love my Nook! I can keep buying books and Rin can’t complain about the space they take up around the house.
- I enjoy having this website. It gives me a chance to write each week, and my wife and I are having a lot of fun. Plus, we’re getting hits from all over the country!
I do enjoy technology, but I think it’s very expensive, a little overwhelming — and, sadly, addicting.
For example, we have not allowed our sons to own any video games. The only thing we break out from time to time is my trusty Nintendo 64! Our oldest kid would be addicted to any video games and we’d have to wrestle him away from them. He does have his grandmother’s hand-me-down iPod Touch, but we limit his use to only about 30 minutes each day. And do you know how he earns those minutes? We play catch with the football or baseball. Every catch he makes, he earns five minutes. If he drops one, he loses five minutes.
Is that good parenting? I don’t know. All I know is that my family has a tendency to be on the heavier side. If I encourage my kids to camp out in front of a TV for six hours a day, I know what’ll happen. They’ll look like me! So right now we stick to sports, blocks, Legos, Lincoln Logs, markers, paper, books, etc.
There’s also a lack of meaningful conversation and person-to-person interaction with some of this technology. I remember one night I was sitting on the couch and my wife was sitting six feet away on the recliner. I had the iPod. She had the iPhone. We were playing Words with Friends. I mean, how odd is that? We’re in the same room! The other night, we broke out a deck of cards and played Phase 10. It was so nice not to be looking at a screen and to actually have a conversation.
I’m a writer by trade. I’ve also taught some college courses. You wouldn’t believe how bad the grammar is these days — even for college students. I chalk that up to texting. People are constantly looking for shortcuts in their lives. And I think it’s evident in today’s writing. (Enough of that soap box.)
Technology is not all so bad. There’s just no way I’ll ever be able to keep up. Since 1995 or so, I’ve always been a step behind.
By the way…Rin just texted me a photo of a new outfit she wants to buy. I’d reply to her text, but by the time I finish typing: “Looks nice go ahead and by it love u bye” it’ll already be in the cart.